Some parents prep their kids for spelling bees, or quiz them on the multiplication tables. Erik Heller (Eric Bana) quizzes his teenage daughter relentlessly, preparing her for an unusual final exam... by trying to kill her. After an apparent lifetime of stealth attacks, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is hard to kill, and capable of besting her old man, even though he's three times her size. She's fast, she's strong, she's smart, she has no fear.
Erik and Hanna live in a rustic, isolated cabin deep in the woods of Finland, surrounded by trees and snow. They wear fur from animals they have hunted themselves. They are off the grid -- way, way off. Hanna might as well have been raised by wolves for all she knows about ordinary human existence, about music, art, friendship, pop culture, romance. Erik has his reasons, which become clear as the movie progresses.
As in a fairy tale, Hanna and Erik are forced to separate. They have a plan to reunite in Berlin, after one of them kills the wicked witch of the story, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). According to Marissa, father and daughter are security threats -- he's a rogue CIA agent, and it's not completely clear what she is, but Marissa wants the strange, slight, blonde girl dead. Marissa is severe, ruthless, and mad -- she wears steel-colored suits and helmet hair that the wind wouldn't dare ruffle. She hires sadistic minions to track Hanna, and woe be to anyone who crosses paths with the girl as she makes her way to Berlin. Marissa wants to kill Erik and Hanna, and she's every bit as relentless and deadly as they are.
The surprises in Hanna mostly come in the beginning of the film -- the ending isn't surprising at all. It's still quite interesting and original in how it gets there, and the hyperactive tendencies of director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) serve the film well. (Likewise the throbbing, evocative musical score by The Chemical Brothers.) The screenplay by Seth Lochhead and David Farr is an agreeable amalgam of fairy tales and spy thriller tropes, with a dollop of science fiction. The story follows Hanna as she alternately flees from and pursues Marissa. Along the way she encounters an eccentric British family traveling across Morocco, and other enchanted folks, but none are as enchanted, or eccentric, as Hanna herself. She's nearly affectless, but curious, drinking in new experiences -- and they're almost all new to her. Ronan is an unusual creature, and well-suited to the role of this ageless child who is sometimes a robotic predator, but one filled with longing for the things she's never known -- the love of a mother (this being a fairy tale, her mother has died, leaving her with a wicked, murderous stepmother of sorts in Marissa), friends, freedom.
Hanna is unexpectedly quirky, with a lot of little oddities that accumulate to make it an unusual, and unusually engrossing and strangely beguiling film. Wright adds some very nice details and flourishes, combined with striking sets and picturesque locations that add a lot of visual interest to the story without beating the symbolism to death (something Wright is sometimes inclined to do). The director sets the right tone, neither taking the story too seriously, nor treating it as throwaway action trash, but striking a balance between the energetic action sequences and the quiet, quirky interludes. Hanna is a thoroughly modern and serious take on the fairy tale (it is far better, in this, than the recent, hopelessly silly Red Riding Hood). Like the traditional fairy tale, Hanna is violent and sometimes gruesome, depicting the perilous journey of a resourceful, clever, lonely girl with enemies to vanquish and dreams to fulfill.