Once, in darker days, I lived with a guy who endlessly watched action movies. Good, bad, terrible – they all got loud airing in my little sharehouse. Over the course of his stay I learnt that an alarmingly large portion of these films are based on roughly the same idea: “the unstoppable badass goes solo and gets revenge”.
Here is my breakdown of this ubiquitous formula. Whether it’s a bionic warrior, a top sniper, some special forces guy or a genetically-modified supersoldier, there is always a badass, the badass has been wronged, and as a consequence the badass always ruthlessly kicks the shit out of everybody in their way. The enemy inevitably is a secret cabal composed entirely of people that can’t aim or fight, and have some reason to deserve the violence visited on them. They might be nazis, terrorists, secret government experimentalists or generic evil minions – the badass gets them all in the end, and we never need to sympathise. Along the way, a revered mentor (who used to be a badass) always crops up, and towards the end the badass has a bit of a struggle with the toughest, most interesting minions of the supervillain before triumphing and killing the hell out of the villain himself. It always happens this way, the fans never seem to mind, and all the worrying subliminal themes pass without comment.
I cringed a bit when the call came to review Hanna. It follows the “the unstoppable badass goes solo and gets revenge” formula precisely. Seriously, every box. Ticked. And that’s just the trailer.
Fortunately, I had nothing to fear. From the first scene Hanna draws you in and keeps you excited, even as you quietly sense that you’re following a well-trod path. The first scene in particular had me double-checking that I hadn’t strolled into a Tarantino flick. No such luck, but it’s still pretty good. Director Joe Wright has innovated substantially on the action formula, giving it just enough twists to be fascinating but also a genre classic. The lead is a total badass but doesn’t look it, and shows a lot of vulnerability and innocence when she isn’t snapping necks. Eric Bana puts his unique stamp on ‘mentor of the badass’ and Cate Blanchett is a convincing supervillain, sporting a southern accent and Julia Gillard’s hairstyle.
Other interesting tweaks are in the rhythm of the film, which shifts into something almost like a comedy around the middle of the film before resuming its intensity as a proper adrenaline-squirter. This breaks up the feel of the flick nicely – it lets you come down off the first batch of violence, and then lulls you into mellowness before slamming you with even more intense badass activity.
The big notable of this film for me was the camerawork. Perhaps it’s only going to wow photographers and film students, but if you’re watching for it you’ll realise that whoever pulled lenses in this film really knew what they were doing. Much of Hanna’s intensity can be attributed to clever camerawork, particularly the abundant use of close-ups. The soundtrack also adds substantially to the excitement when things get intense, amplifying the effect of the numerous impressive fights and pursuits.
I haven’t left a film feeling quite so drained of adrenalin since I saw The Hurt Locker last year. If you like that feeling, you really must see Hanna.