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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

EVERY once in a while a director comes along to redefine what can be achieved within the context of an action film. Matthew Vaughn most recently did it with Kick-Ass, both Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass did it with the Bourne movies and Christopher Nolan did it with his Batman movies.

Joe Wright is the latest to enter that elite group with Hanna, a head-spinning action movie of very high quality that really does toy with both convention and expectation.

In terms of expectancy, no one could have predicted that Wright – who cut his teeth with Pride & Prejudice and Atonement – could have delivered such a humdinger of an action movie… especially not one that also boasts an electrifying break-beat score from the Chemical Brothers and a career re-defining supporting performance from Tom Hollander.

And as far as convention goes, having a teenage girl (in this case Saoirse Ronan) play a ruthless assassin pushes the envelope already opened by Kick-Ass, while giving it a high glass gloss by virtue of the presence of Cate Blanchett as her nemesis.

Hanna really shouldn’t work as well as it does. But boy does it, emerging as a sizeable triumph for just about everyone involved.

The story follows Hanna (Ronan) as she comes out of hiding to pursue a normal life after having spent her formative years being trained as a crack assassin by her father (Eric Bana) in the knowledge that doing so will place her on the radar of the CIA’s Marissa (Blanchett), a rule-bending official who was responsible for Hanna’s very being and subsequent attempted cover-up.

Hence, the ensuing tale deftly balances coming-of-age elements as Hanna attempts to connect with people of her own age with high octane action sequences, most of which set the pulse racing.

Wright, though, takes both in his stride, striking a near-perfect balance between the two without ever seeming exploitative (in the way that Zack Snyder recently was) or formulaic.

Rather, he imbues the coming-of-age elements with a surreal, almost dream-like quality that comes in stark contrast to the edgy violence of the action sequences (a lot of which push the parameters of the film’s generous 12A certificate).

In doing so, he also plays to the strengths of his terrific cast, with Ronan cementing her reputation as one of the most talented and versatile teenage actresses of the moment (displaying a maturity beyond her years) and Blanchett revelling in the role of villain.

Bana, too, excels as the father-figure attempting desperately to keep Hanna safe and outwit his CIA opponents, while Hollander is on scene-stealing form as a repugnant assassin without a conscience (you’ll want to see more of him).

There are flaws, of course… with some of the character building coming at the expense of the flow of the action – a criticism that could catch some viewers expecting a Bourne-style romp off-guard.

But one suspects that Hanna is the type of film that gets better with each viewing, as audiences get the measure of what it’s trying to do.

And few could argue against the final genius of having the Chemical Brothers supply the score, which balances atmosphere with moments of sonic exhilaration to firmly apply the icing on top of this particular cinematic cake.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 111mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August 29, 2011