Hanna

Stars: ★★★★

Summary:  With organic, character-based storytelling and artful technique, ‘Hanna’ is the way genre thrillers should be made.

Review:  If you want to make a genre film, such as an action thriller with familiar espionage elements, there exists a principle that serves to prevent your story from being a stale retread: Character depth.  From characters and relationships should grow, organically, the plot and action you want to see.  ‘Hanna’ is a brilliant example of this principle in full effect.  Every scene in the excellent screenplay serves to flesh out the titular character, in an oblique way that subverts genre expectations as often as it fulfills them.  The filmmakers deliver a moving human story that works as a kickass action movie, too.  This is doing it right.

Director Joe Wright exploits the close relationship between film and music, which renders aid to the dramatic theme of music as a critical part of human life.  The action sequences play out perfectly with The Chemical Brothers’ genius score, a visual-for-sound beat synergy that locks the twain together in your mind.  It pleases me to no end that I can now imagine the action in ‘Hanna’ with just the score playing as well as I can ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’.  I hope The Chemical Brothers stay open to future collaborations with Joe Wright in particular, and film scoring in general.  They’ve got a knack for it.

Visually, the filmmakers work both old school and inventively, as they use Steadicam wisely and lend the frame clarity and focus, instead of, say, kinetic obscurity ala Greengrass.  Joe Wright notably executes a particularly badass tracking shot that lasts for about five minutes, the centerpiece of which is a brutal fight with Eric Bana.  The whole film is beautiful, even when it’s dwelling on violent subject matter.  When the composition and editing coalesce into something this gorgeous, there’s not much I can do but watch with a silly grin on my face.

What’s truly brilliant about the story is its subjectivity, as we experience the film from primarily Hanna’s perspective, and even when we divert to other characters it’s interpreted through her worldview.  She grew up on Grimm’s fairy tales, an encyclopedia and Finland’s unforgiving wilderness — the scope of her experience colors even mundane objects like tea kettles and fluorescent lights.  The villains morph, symbolically, into witches and wolves, teeth and claws and dark magic.  As she evolves, so does her world, and while her lingering childhood innocence vanishes, it’s replaced with powerful self-knowledge, the apotheosis of the film’s tagline: Adapt or die.  The fact that the filmmakers allow us to share her perspective so intimately makes this transformation powerful, regardless of whether the plot surprises us.  As Eric Bana’s character simply observes, “Kids grow up” — and it’s best when we can grow up with them.

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NR: On Untitled Satires

James here with Wednesday’s News Reflections!

One of my favorite writer/director teams of recent years is Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman (strike that, reverse it), responsible for ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Adaptation’, thoughtful, poignant movies about creativity and other dreadful things.  Kaufman and Jonze, as explained in a SlashFilm article, are reuniting for an untitled satire (not the title, of course, but it tickles me to think that it could be).  Apparently it’s “about how world leaders gather to figure out all the seismic events that will take place in the worlds [sic, maybe?], from oil prices to wars that will be waged.” Which is a lovely concept.

Cover of "Adaptation (Shooting Scripts)"

Cover of Adaptation (Shooting Scripts)

Which is what I love about these guys: They don’t skimp on big ideas.

I see a disturbing sensibility in too many creatives; the lack of enthusiasm for really off-the-wall ideas, genre-bending or genre-less concepts that are so interesting in themselves that they buy the audience’s attention from the get-go.  As a cinephile, uniqueness is way at the top of my subconscious list of things to look for in a potential viewing experience.  I don’t go to very many films or watch too much television.  I’m James the Unmerciful, mediocre filmmakers beware.  In truth, I do try to look for the good things in film in general and in specific movies, even bad ones.  This is why my reviews typically are of cream-of-the-crop stuff.  I’m a picky eater.  I realize many folks are casual in their relationship with the cinematic arts, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to make films for the lowest common denominator.  Bad movies either fade or live in infamy, and when they achieve the latter they often define their creators’ reputations.  Not a place a creative wants to work in, unless you’re Tommy Wiseau.

It’s entirely possible to execute a great idea horribly, but it’s always better to start with the best ingredients, even if you bake the cake too long.  At least you (or someone else) can use the recipe later, and people might even forgive you for it.  In the business of screenwriting, I get it that producers like to buy stuff that duplicates the latest big thing in spirit, but there’s always the question, “How did that popular thing get made?”  Somebody has to take a risk, and it might as well be the writer.  If the writer takes big artistic risks but doesn’t skimp on excellence, and if they show tenacity, their work might get sold and the project’s distinctiveness could very well carry over through the process.  There’s never a guarantee of a big hit.  There’s that Hollywood aphorism that “Nobody knows anything”, and there’s some truth to that.  Nobody knows absolutely what will get a massive audience and a billion dollars.  If we knew, we’d be Harry Seldon.

I recently watched a documentary on the composer Philip Glass, and he said something along these lines: “If you don’t have to invent a new technique, chances are you don’t have anything new.” So instead of recycling the latest garbage, try for something absolutely insane.  If you get nervous or wise, you can always tone it down later.  Creativity is a gamble, but it pays to bet radically, let the chips fall where they may.  At least an attempt is made to rise above the mediocre.  The world needs more bizarre untitled satires, chronologically mismatched film noirs, movies based on dream logic with ambiguous endings, and something that only exists in your brain, or else I’d reference it here obliquely.  Big ideas stick with us, and they stick with their creators, and audiences get stuck on them in turn.  It all rolls into a giant ball of timelessness we like to call Classic Cinema.

Elements of the Screen: The Art of the Antagonist

Hey dear readers, a new entry in ‘Elements’ is here, where I do my darnedest to make the archetype of the Villain crystal clear.  You can find it here:  https://thesilvermirror.wordpress.com/the-art-of-the-antagonist

Please do remember to comment.  We appreciate your feedback.

Now if I can only get Patrick to post an article for ‘Elements’…