Comparisons with the Bourne franchise are justified.
Joe Wright, the British director Pride and Prejudice and Atonement makes the bold step into action, and he's pulled it off magnificently. Having earned young Saoirse Ronan an Oscar nomination at the age of 13 for Atonement, he relies on the Irish actress to carry off the implausible - a ruthless killing machine in the body of a delicate young teenager.
When we first meet Hanna (Ronan), she's living in an isolated hut in an Arctic forest with her father Erik (Eric Bana). Wright's opening scene speaks volumes with minutes of silence, as Hanna hunts and efficiently guts an elk on the striking frozen tundra. Not your average single parent, he trains her in ninja-like awareness, combat and languages. For Erik knows she cannot remain hidden for the rest of her life, and that at some point, they will be hunted down by a certain CIA agent named Marissa (Cate Blanchett). Hanna insists she is ready for the outside world, and allows herself to be captured. What follows is a stunning spiral of quick-witted escapes, scored by The Chemical Brothers' adrenaline rush of an original soundtrack.
With Marissa strangely relishing the thought of this pocket-sized warrior, she heads to Germany to recruit a psychotic Tom Hollander in tennis shorts - along with his neo-Nazi chums - to hunt the girl down. Meanwhile, Erik is on the run in Europe, hoping to rendezvous with his daughter, now stowed away with a British family campervanning around Morocco and the continent.
Comparisons with the Bourne franchise are justified, as both use European locations and feature a protagonist with heightened skills and no sense of identity. However, Hanna is so much more than a straightforward action flick. Wright uses surrealism and symbolism (some a little heavy-handed) to enhance the fairy tale experience of a little girl who is lost in the city, not the woods.
What makes Hanna an exceptional film is the attention lavished on her first experience of friendship. In any other director's hands, Hanna's first non-familial bond would've been with a swoonworthy boy (there is one goofy and cute moment with a bemused Spanish teen, played for laughs). But this is a man who's devoted his greatest works to the lives of women, and not for him the simplicity of relating everything a female says and does to men. Jessica Barden is a treasure as Sophie, the daughter of Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng's adorable free-spirited couple, unwitting guardians to Hanna. Every line the pop culture-obsessed Sophie utters to the bemused Hanna is priceless. Their lengthy time together is warm and funny, and grounded in respect.
These tender moments of discovery sit alongside stunning action sequences. Echoing the jaw-dropping five-minute single tracking shot of Dunkirk in Atonement, Wright sets up a similar moment in one of Berlin's retro U-bahn stations, following Erik in a staggering circular fight sequence evocative of The Matrix - minus any camera wizardry. Wright eschews fast edits so our eyes can linger on the bone-crunching spectacle in front of us. At not any point is Ronan unbelievable as she fist fights her enemies - she's sharp-eyed, cunning but also frantic and vulnerable. Ronan plays both sides of this character with admirable subtlety. Unfortunately, with so much going on around her, we never really feel too much emotion for Hanna herself, as likeable as she is.
Its post-Cold War, shifty CIA premise is not the most original, and the script itself isn't anything special, apart from the interesting relationships between the characters. Yet Hanna is a stunning, visceral achievement of style and performance, and vitally, a unique take on a gutsy, cliché-free heroine.