Lately, there has been a trend of films that feature ass-kicking, strongly independent female characters (KICK-ASS, TRUE GRIT, LET ME IN). Its something that I hope will develop beyond being a trend and become a permanent fixture in Hollywood movies. HANNA continues this trend in a stylish and hip action film that stars up-and-coming actress Saoirse Ronan as a trained killing machine. Directed by Joe Wright (PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, ATONEMENT, and THE SOLOIST) and featuring a soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, HANNA is an exciting, intelligent, and stylish action movie that rises far above the Tony Scott/Jason Bourne-inspired action films of late (i.e. UNKNOWN being the most recent example of these trite movies). Its not the kind of movie that will be embraced widely by mainstream American audiences, but for those who appreciate good filmmaking, its guaranteed to impress.

HANNA is the name of a girl (Saoirse Ronan) who has been living with her father (Eric Bana) somewhere in the Arctic for as long as she can remember. We don’t know anything about the two except that Hanna has been trained by her dad to be the perfect killing machine. The two live in complete isolation (no electricity, no television, no computers or internet, no phones) and everything Hanna knows comes from her father’s teachings. Her father explains to her that when the time comes that she feels she is ready to go out in the real world, Hanna will need to flip the switch on a transmitter to indicate her location. When that happens, a corrupt CIA agent by the name of Marissa Viegler (Cate Blanchett) will be notified of her whereabouts and she will set out to find and kill her. One day, Hanna announces that she is finally ready and she turns on the transmitter. Shortly after this happens, Viegler, who has been immediately notified, sends out agents to find Hanna and her father. However, they both escape and make arrangements to find each other in Germany. The rest of the film is about Hanna avoiding Viegler and her goons while also trying to piece together her life’s story.

From the first frame of the movie, you are immediately struck by the gorgeous cinematography by Alwin H. Kuchler (SUNSHINE). The film makes use of natural landscapes and real locations to tell its story. There isn’t any heavy dependence on expensive CG or on-screen gadgetry to tell the story unlike (again) UNKNOWN or last year’s SALT. In that sense, HANNA is a unique spy action movie the clandestine and violent environment the characters are a product of operate in a very natural looking world. This is emphasized in the beginning scenes of the movie where we see Hanna and her father living off the land by hunting and gathering their own food. When Hanna escapes from the CIA’s secret facility in Morocco, she wanders through the country’s desert landscape and experiences the country’s culture and people.

HANNA is also unlike the majority of spy action movies in that its not just about the main character running away from bad guys and jumping on moving trains and blowing shit up. The film spends a considerable amount of time developing Hanna and showing her as she takes in for the first time in her life all the complexities of life. Those expecting a standard action movie will probably be bored by this stuff, but I found it beautiful and exhilarating. There is one particular scene that really stood out for me. In the scene, Hanna has reached Spain and she’s out on a “date” with a local Spaniard. The two of them are sitting at a beach and watch this group of gypsy-looking Spaniards perform a song and dance. To Hanna, this is a magical moment because up until now, she has never heard music and only knows about it through her readings of what music literally means. The director’s strength shows through in this scene because he’s not afraid to cut away from the song and dance number and instead stays on it for the entire duration of the song.

As the titular character, Saoirse Ronan has big shoes to fill, which she does in wonderful fashion. Although I didn’t find her character to be as exciting to watch as Chloe Grace Moretz’s Hit Girl character was in KICK-ASS, Hanna still manages to be a captivating character who capably carries the weight of the film. The toughest aspect of the character to portray was probably Hanna’s wondering reaction to all the new stimuli around her. Ronan pulls this off convincingly for the most part despite some logical lapses in a few scenes, which I don’t blame the actress for so much as I blame the screenplay. If you can’t already tell, HANNA is not your typical spy action movie and Hanna isn’t simply an action movie cypher. She’s a girl on the cusp of womanhood, who is taking her first tentative steps out into a world she doesn’t know. However, don’t think that this means the movie isn’t action-oriented. HANNA is much more action-oriented than THE AMERICAN or THE PROFESSIONAL).

However, its probably no surprise for anyone of you to hear that Cate Blanchett really ends up being the best character in this movie. Aside from the fact that the villain is usually the most interesting character in any movie, Blanchett is a cold-hearted, ambitious, focused bitch. I’ve mostly seen the actress play protagonists in the past so to see her take on such an evil character is a testament to the versatility of the actress’ skills. In a sense, Marissa Viegler is sort of like the Terminator. From the moment we meet her, we see that absolutely nothing will stop her from finding Hanna and her father, even if that means disobeying her agency’s orders. Viegler is the antithesis to Hanna’s world. Hanna is always seen in various landscapes, mixing amongst various cultures, and interacting with different people. Viegler, on the other hand, lives in a gray (literally) home, wears gray clothing, and anything that is alive is entirely foreign to her. Viegler is basically just like a machine that keeps on going in a perfect, meticulous manner.

As with Trent Reznor providing music for THE SOCIAL NETWORK and Daft Punk scoring TRON: LEGACY, we now have The Chemical Brothers providing the music for HANNA. Unlike Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers have managed to maintain their own style and have simply adapted it for the film. As a result, the soundtrack is just as much a Chemical Brother’s album as it is a soundtrack to the film. The tracks are pretty diverse as well as some are ominous and haunting while others are just plain fun. In case you decide to check out the soundtrack, my favorite track from the album is “Container Park.”

In a year that has so far produced some pretty damn good gems, HANNA is easily one of this year’s best films. It’s a welcome departure from director Joe Wright’s past films and I hope to see him tackle more action movies. I would also like to note that this film finally makes an effort to provide us with original action set pieces. Last year, it seemed that all the studios got together and had decided to shoot all of their action films in shipyards. Now I have to admit that HANNA also has a shipyard sequence, but through Wright and Kuchler’s direction, the film breathes new life into this familiar setting. In addition to the shipyard, HANNA also takes place in sewers and an abandoned amusement park. However, the best action sequence of the film is hands down inside the CIA secret facility from where Hanna makes her escape. The combination of The Chemical Brothers’ soundtrack with the awesome editing and cinematography makes for a unforgettable experience. In the end, HANNA is a film that’s filled with dazzling poetic images set in bizarre and exotic locales that moves to the electronic tune of The Chemical Brothers. It’s a coming-of-age story about a girl not to be fucked with and its one you won’t regret experiencing.