Tuesday, 17 May 2011

“She came. She was nice. She left.”

Hanna written by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, directed by Joe Wright
Few handles of film critics exasperate me more than that of the “auteur”. It’s not that I am in firm disagreement with the usage of the term. But, the way in which the average movie reviewer throws it around like a benediction sometimes tends to annoy me, it all seems somewhat jaded. Tarantino, for example, is a definitive auteur but someone like James Ivory (who infuses each of his films with a constant grace) would never be given the title. I feel as if it’s the same with Joe Wright. Ignoring The Soloist - and it’s like everyone did ignore that one – he’s done Pride & Prejudice and Atonement and there’s always that quiet feeling that he’s not a “real” direction because of the alleged gentleness of both films. Enter Hanna.
I can’t account for reasoning, but general audiences seem to have racked up an affinity for women in combat. There’s something a bit sensational about a woman fighting, I suppose, and nothing beats a fighting a woman like a fighting girl. And, from its inception Hanna has cards stacked highly for and against it. The superficial presence of childhood violence is as much a draw for some as it is a turnoff for others. There’s only so much that one can do with a story about a girl being trained for mortal combat, right? And the answer to that question is yes and no. For, Hanna is just that – a story about a young girl who has been trained (cue gasp) for mortal combat. And, still it works.
I often wish people would get reality that a good original screenplay is good not necessarily for the original portion of the compound word but for the screenplay part. Well written trumps originality any day, in my book at last; and Hanna is hardly innovative but Lochhead and Farr do fresh things with some rudimentary themes. The culture shock which Hanna spends much of the second act experiencing is handled with a surprising amount of whimsy preventing the film from become a slave to its bleaker issues. I’m a bit like a broken record, but there are few things I appreciate more than structure in a screenplay and despite the occasional diversions (that final act could do with a little more tightening) it succeeds for the most part, the script is well done for its genre – but it’s Wright who’s the true saving grace. More than anything Hanna depends on his direction. I’ve always found him to be a succinct filmmaker (the successful condensation of Pride & Prejudice still impresses me) but Wright and his team (editor Paul Tothill deserves major props) keep it moving a fine pace.
Third time, they say, is the charm and this is Saoirse Ronan’s third major feature and if you’re not willing to accept her talent you’re just being silly she misses all the easiest chances to make Hanna a victim of caricature (Chloe Moretz take note). It’s a beautiful thing to watch her talent develop and it’s even better watching her play opposite the likes of Blanchett, Williams and Bana – each turning in performances of varying goodness.

The best thing about making a genre film like Hanna is that it gives Wright a chance to develop a film without any kneejerk expectations of awards’ glory. Hanna allows him to develop his talent and – who knows – maybe he’ll stop being deprecatingly referred to as “that period director” (although I’m continually nonplussed as to how that’s a bad thing). I’ll admit, as satisfying an experience it is Hanna is marked by a distinct sheen of coldness. I’m not sure if it’s an occupational hazard of the genre or of it’s a flaw in the plan of Hanna – because it IS a satisfying film. That line that smoothly opens and closes the film about Hanna missing her target’s heart seems terribly apt here. But, even if it’s not a direct hit to the heart it’s fine marksmanship nonetheless.


Nicholas Prigge said...

"I often wish people would get reality that a good original screenplay is good not necessarily for the original portion of the compound word but for the screenplay part."

The sound you hear is my applause.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Wright is a fine conceptualist when it comes to his direction and Hanna, like The Soloist shows him in fine "stretching" form, proving that he not only gets the basics (like delivering fine action) but also presenting a fine sub-text in his visuals. Hanna would have merely been "all right" except for the style he brought to it.

TomS said...

I, too, think that a few film critics use the term "auteur" without understanding its origins, or meaning in film history.

I see that some solid directors--Joe Wright, Rob Marshall, even Kenneth Branagh-- are now having to make genre films in order to find work.

That is not to say that these films are all bad or not worth seeing; but some filmmakers have so much more in them, if only they were allowed to work at their capacity, on material that has lasting value.

Of those now in release, "Hanna" is one of the few that interest me; I will have to check it out.

M. Hufstader said...

Excellent review! I agree, Hanna is definitely an extraordinarily well written movie, and when it comes down to it, that's really what will hook everyone in. Great line about them missing the mark slightly with this one, even if I didn't entirely feel that I can definitely grasp what you mean by it.

Simon said...

I kind of thought it was beautiful, the movie, in a weird sort of way. Like, the kind of action movie you'd play to the approving nods of subway hipsters.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I really do adore this movie. The finale stumbles a little, but overall, I think Joe Wright effectively brought a crazy fantasy aesthetic. And yeah, Ronan is just fantastic.

Fitz said...

Part of me hopes this sneaks into the top ten Best Picture slots.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

nicholas thank you, sir. i've been peddling that idea for years.

yojimbo i'm so excited to see what his next feature is like.

tom so true. i don't think anything is wrong with directors sticking with their strengths. chris nolan sticks to his fare and gets praised, wright does two period flicks and gets flack. so odd.

walter agree with you on both points, of course.

fitz this year hasn't offered anything of great interest yet. who knows?