"MOVIE MAD" by Michael van den Bos

(c) 2014 by Michael van den Bos

2 Posts from April 2011


Saoirse Ronan is Hanna

HANNA – directed by Joe Wright




Rating: 4 out of 5 Chaplins.

{Opens in Vancouver theatres on Friday 08 April 2011}

Hooray for Hanna!  Here is an action-adventure movie that shockingly has brains, wry wit, a surprising soul, is artfully directed and pulsates with an electric edge.  Hanna, the titular character, is the most exciting and fascinating new action hero to hit movie screens in several years.  Stupendously played by Saoirse Ronan, Hanna is the 16-year-old female flip side of Jason Bourne: a lethal killer at a loss for her true identity.  As improbable as the plot is, Hanna is no super amped-up comic book action movie with its lead actress sealed in skin tight, low- cut outfits and firing semi-automatic weapons while never scuffing her stiletto pumps.  Hanna Heller (don’t think the screenwriters didn’t know what they were doing when they gave her that last name) is a vulnerable teenage girl, and like most teenagers, she is struggling to find herself, understand her identity, and come to grips with growing-up in a dangerous world, even if she can break your neck with one swift twist of your head.

Meticulously trained by her ex-CIA agent father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana), in the frigid countryside of North Finland, Hanna’s killer instincts and survival skills are honed to a razor’s edge.  Erik also educates Hanna in various languages and world history.  The only nod to anything representing a childhood for Hanna is her love of reading fairy tales.  All of this deadly training is for one purpose – a mysterious mission, and when Hanna is ready to take on this mission, her father activates a tracking device that calls the attention of steely-cold CIA operative Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), who sends forces to Erik’s cabin.  He is nowhere to be found, but they capture Hanna and she is brought to a secret CIA base in Morocco for interrogation.  Marissa is somehow connected to Hanna’s past and Hanna’s mission is connected to Marissa.  In a brilliantly conceived and executed break-out scene, Hanna escapes and finds herself lost in North Africa.  She comes to the attention of a Bohemian English family travelling in a van and they kindly help Hanna, but unknowingly put themselves in danger for doing so as Hanna is followed by Marissa’s sadistic henchman, Issacs (Tom Hollander).  Hanna’s enigmatic past is revealed when she meets her father at a Berlin rendezvous point where Marissa has tracked her down, culminating in a haunting girl-on-girl final confrontation.

What separates and elevates Hanna from your typical sound-and-fury Hollywood action movie is its very human subtext of a motherless, missed childhood in the guise of the teenage Hanna, who is moulded by her father in an image of his design for a vengeful purpose, and, albeit, for reasons so she can actually have a future.  This is all wrapped in a dream-like treatment with overt allusions to classic fairy tales.  There is no missing Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf or the relationship of Snow White and her wicked stepmother in the form of Cate Blanchett’s Marrisa Wiegler.  Director Joe Wright (The Soloist, Atonement) and his production design team create a fairy tale look in the beautiful opening sequences set in North Finland.  The home of Hanna and her father looks like a cottage the Seven Dwarfs would live in and the ethereal quality is only enhanced with the snowy atmosphere.  This fairy tale design is mirrored later on in a surreal, abandoned amusement park for the climax of the movie.  It is in this location where director Wright is bold enough to incorporate an astonishing image of Cate Blanchett and the oversized head of the Big Bad Wolf with gaping maw.

Joe Wright’s direction is confident, assured, stylish; never heavy-handed, confused or ostentatious.  How wonderful it is to watch an action movie that is made with loving detail to craft and graced with a touch of the poetic.  Wright, and his editor, Paul Tothill, respect the audience by not bludgeoning them with machine-gun editing and a barrage of thunderous noise.  The action scenes are tough, blunt, thrilling and scary while never punishing to the senses.  I was impressed by one particular fight scene between Eric Bana’s character and the CIA agents surrounding him for capture.  It is filmed in one continuous moving camera shot with not cuts.  You feel the urgency, the immediacy and the danger of this hand-to-hand combat scene based on expert choreographed stunt work photographed in an uninterrupted take.  This is rare to see in contemporary action films where fight scenes are cut-up in a mess of abstract movement.  Cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler photographs the movie with a keen sense of how the contrast of cool and warm light and expressive colour conveys Hanna’s feelings and senses. 

Sonically driving Hanna’s adventure is one of the best non-symphonic contemporary music scores I have heard in recent years.  The Chemical Brothers contribute an original electronic music score that crackles and roars with an eccentric grace without feeling disconnected to the story.  The score makes a nod to film history when a musical suite called “In the Hall of The Mountain King”,  from the 19th Century stage play Peer Gynt, is featured on the soundtrack, evoking Fritz Lang’s 1931 German Expressionist film, M, in which Peter Lorre’s child killer whistles that same tune whenever he hunts for his next victim.

The acting is generally superb throughout Hanna.  Eric Bana as Hanna’s father is understated and solid, if not given a lot to do.  Tom Hollander as Issacs, the nefarious henchman, is wonderfully despicable.  He looks like Perez Hilton with bleached blonde hair, but with skills more deadly than the lacerating celebrity reportage of the internet gossip monger.

The stand-out performances are Cate Blanchett and Saoirse Ronan.  Blanchett is across-the board outstanding in any role she takes on.  In Hanna she combines a subtly scary gravitas with fleeting moments of vulnerability.  In one brilliant turn – that you may miss if you blink – Marissa is interrogating Hanna’s grandmother (more Red Riding Hood metaphors) and when the grandmother mentions to Marissa that she could not possibly understand the bond between mother and daughter, Blanchett reacts in the slightest manner that massively betrays her character’s imperturbability.  This brief moment reveals that Marrisa may harbour some history and pain connected to Hanna.  It is, ironically, a moment where a nugget of sympathy is suddenly engendered for this villainess character and it swiftly deepens her mystery as much as Hanna’s.

Saoirse Ronan gives a simply breathtaking, heartfelt and powerhouse performance as the perfectly trained assassin who must “adapt or die”.  Her fragile, pale figure suggests a tenuous young girl, which emotionally she is, but she is as nimble as a spider monkey and as dangerous as a wolverine.  Ronan elicits a multitude of complex emotions, striking delicate notes of fear, longing, sexual awakening and kick-ass assurance.  She was the lone good thing about Peter Jackson’s pretentious 2009 allegorical misfire, The Lovely Bones, and in Hanna she proves, without a doubt, that she is an important talent to reckon with.

The climax of Hanna may be a foregone conclusion for many viewers, but it is also satisfying and nicely ties to the opening scenes of the movie.  The ending suggests a sequel – and perhaps a franchise – is to follow, and I want to see director Joe Wright and the screenwriters, Seth Lochhead and David Farr, continue Hanna’s story into her young adulthood and explore extreme themes of female empowerment in the spy game; for Hanna would make Jason Bourne and James Bond whimper like two little school girls.

 Trailer for Hanna


Adrien Brody, a little worse for wear, in Wrecked.

WRECKED – directed by Michael Greenspan




Rating: 3 out of 5 Chaplins

{Opens in Vancouver theatres on Friday 08 April 2011}

In Wrecked, Adrien Brody plays an anonymous man who awakes from unconsciousness to find himself trapped in a mangled car that crashed down a forest embankment.  The man is bruised, caked with dried blood, and one leg is trapped under the car dash.  He is in the passenger seat, so he knows he probably wasn’t driving the car, but that is the extent of what he can glean from his horrible situation.  The man has no idea why the car crashed, why he is in the car and, worst of all, he doesn’t know who he is.  The man’s memory and identity seems to have been completely wiped out in the wreck.  In his frantic attempt to dislodge himself, the man discovers various things that further unnerve him: a loaded gun under the driver’s seat, a dead body in the back seat, another dead body just beyond the wreck, and, when he finally extricates himself from the car, a bag stuffed with cash in the trunk.  This makes no sense to the man, and neither does the presence of a young female hiker (Caroline Dhavernas) who discovers him and proceeds to irrationally berate him as he slowly drags himself, with a broken leg, through the woods in a painful attempt to escape the forest and seek help. 

This is an intriguing set-up that leads into a compelling first half of Wrecked, eliciting a palpable sense of curiosity combined with a subtle feeling of suspense for the plight of this unfortunate man.  As he musters the will power, and whatever physical strength remains in his beat up body, the man slowly pulls himself through the forest, over the dense brush, rocks and up daunting hills, in the hopes of at least finding the road from which he plunged from in order to flag down any passing car.  Along his disorienting journey, he encounters a dog that gives him comfort, and he continually runs into that badgering woman who seems to be either a random hallucination or the manifestation of someone closely connected to his dire predicament.  Fleeting images flash in his mind that suggests he was part of something very bad, gone very wrong, that may have brought harm to the woman whose apparition haunts him.       

With very little overt action, director Michael Greenspan – working from Christopher Dodd’s minimalist, but intelligent screenplay – skilfully crafts what amounts to a silent film.  Greenspan’s masterful, unadorned use of subjective camera framing (evoking the subjective camera work of Alfred Hitchcock) and tight editing expresses the story in purely cinematic terms, firmly placing the viewer into the mind and the dilemma of the man.  Adrien Brody, one of the finest and – despite his Best Actor Oscar win for Roman Polanski’s The Pianist – arguably one of the least appreciated A-list actors working in movies today, is riveting in his role, which requires much reacting to his character’s situation.  Other than his point-of-view shots, Brody is in virtually every frame of Wrecked and his subtly nuanced performance engenders pathos, sympathy and dread as to what the viewer may discover about his past.  This is a bravura performance that is restrained and passionate at once.

The first rate cinematography by James Liston contributes to the ironic mix of claustrophobia and overwhelming sense of space, shot in a damp, unmistakable British Columbia forest. 

Wrecked is only a 91 minute movie, but by the time it reaches the end of act two, it unfortunately begins to drag as much as Brody’s character physically does so through the forest.  The filmmakers seem to have run out of ideas, and all though there are enough red herrings peppered throughout the film to keep the viewer guessing, by the time the story comes to its revelation of the man’s true identity and what actually happened to him before the accident, the payoff is dramatically disappointing.  Though there is much I admire about Wrecked, I found it to be more of a filmic exercise rather than a full-blooded movie.  It doesn’t so much crash at the end of its narrative road, but simply runs out of gas.

Trailer for Wrecked