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Student Film 'Hanna' hits the big screen with a bang

By Bryan Menegus

What's most shocking about Hanna isn't its opening scene of the titular 16-year old, hunting and disemboweling a deer in the wilderness of Finland. Nor is it the penultimate sequence, wherein Erik Heller (Eric Bana) forces a rusted steel girder through his adversary's ribcage. The truly amazing thing about this film is that its life began as the senior film project of Seth Lochhead, a student of the Vancouver Film School.

Hanna tells the story of a girl separated from society. Her father, Erik Heller, an ex-CIA agent, has raised her in seclusion and given her an assassin's homeschooling: she is fluent in most languages, deadly in armed or unarmed combat and taught to always gain the upper hand. In many ways, her story is reminiscent of Hit-Girl from last year's Kick-Ass, but Hanna trades genre savvy, comic flare and self-awareness for the blank-faced intensity of a pure thriller. Unlike Hit-Girl, Hanna's foray into the real world reveals not just her acumen as a trained killer, but highlights the ignorance a sheltered existence instilled in her.

Director Joe Wright (Atonement) lends his unique visual style to the film, alternating between disorienting, quick-cut action (which is, more often than not, representative of modernity) and the idyllic, sprawling canvas of the untamed wilderness. The more kinetic parts of Hanna are further bolstered by an excellent quasi-industrial soundtrack, provided by The Chemical Brothers. Keeping consistent with the protagonist's state of mind, Hanna is almost totally devoid of establishing shots. While this keeps the viewer grounded in Hanna's perspective, the film also takes place over a half-dozen countries and it's difficult to keep track of exactly where things are happening.

In the simplest of terms, Hanna is a chase scene, spread out over 111 minutes. And it's a premise that becomes tired about halfway through. Because Hanna has the decency not to rely on the cheap thrills of constant, senseless, adrenaline-junkie violence, the audience expects more cinematic merit and emotional investment. It's not that the dialogue isn't engaging or that the action scenes aren't on point, there just isn't enough thought given to character. Both Hanna and her father Erik are given a single, two-pronged objective: survive long enough to kill Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). This goal is not elaborate or varied enough to fill the length of the movie, and neither character grows much through their trials. Each aspect of the modern world that baffles or bests Hanna seems to pass right by her, never imbuing her with some new, earned knowledge—and her stoic self-assurance as an assassin keeps the audience from ever truly connecting with her.

The big reveal in Hanna gets saved for the end, and the groundwork for it is poorly laid. It feels like a twist out of a latter-day M. Night Shyamalan flick (i.e. rather than an "oh, I get it!" a "why did that happen?"). Still, Hanna gets a lot of points for originality of subject matter, and Joe Wright's directorial prowess is on full display.    

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