Joe Wright’s got some visual flair, that’s for sure. Hanna is, for my money, his best film. That’s not only because I’m more drawn to this type of narrative than his dramatic period pieces, but also because Hanna is so formally tight. It’s more visually accomplished than his much-celebrated Atonement, and impressionistic in a Neil Jordan In The Company of Wolves kind of way.
Hanna follows the title character (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana) as they return from years of self-imposed exile to get revenge on Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett), the woman possibly responsible for Hanna’s mother’s death.
Wright switches effortlessly from Tom Tykwer-inspired collage montages, with rapid edits, a techno beat and a whirling camera-
-to surreal, tableau shots that include this, my favorite moment of the film. For some context, I’ll start with the shot that ends the scene immediately prior. We have an overhead wide-shot of the dock as Isaacs (Tom Hollander in an odd mixture of psycho neo-Nazi and 80s club owner) returns from a failed pursuit:
Cut to the odd tonal shift shown below. I love this moment for so many reasons. The sequence below illustrates how the camera dollies from left to right. One of Isaacs’ thugs dances atop these dock trailers holding a flame. The light is eerie and green and within each crate we can see individuals sitting silently. It feels like we’ve been pulled into a new world and given no context for it. The stillness of those below is so strange, and at odds with what happens at the top of the frame. That this neo-Nazi is dancing is at odds with anything we’ve seen him do before. It’s like the first musical number in a film you didn’t know was a musical:
Capturing Isaacs in the foreground is also a nice moment as he picks up the dolly’s motion and motivates it to its landing point in the final image above. It also gives us some sense of narrative. But that’s what’s important here. The narrative clue is so late in a fairly long (duration-wise) shot. We don’t get a real sense for what is happening until the ending shot above and more specifically, the ending shot below-
-where we finally identify one of the people as Marissa, are given a geographical grounding with Isaacs in the background, and can now give some narrative context to the goings-on.
Another part of the success of Hanna (and you might tell that I’m veering away from plot. The plot itself is fine in the film, but this is a perfect example of a movie that is elevated by technique over script) is the afore-mentioned impressionistic sense of set design. This all stems from a fairly underdeveloped, but fun nonetheless, Grimm’s Fairy Tales theme.
Here are a few examples. If for no other reason I absolutely love the set design and the idea of objects dwarfing the characters. Was this built or found? It’s so imaginative. I also quite like how the inanimate animals so clearly parallel the characters, yet the fact that it’s so on the nose – no attempt at subtlety here – really works in its favor. Let’s put it all out there and not try to hide:
One last filmmaking example because these small decisions always fascinate me. I’ve talked about the 180 line before in here. It’s film-school basic stuff. Suffice to say that the line is broken below. Hanna and her new friend (an awesome turn by Jessica Barden as Sophie) talk to one another intimately. Why have them looking the same direction? Why not shoot Hanna over her right shoulder and Sophie over her left shoulder as would be the traditional tactic?
I don’t have much of an answer. I suppose that this is Hanna’s only real friend in the film and her world is a bit warped, but those responses get old. Regardless, when watching this it immediately caught my eye. Sometimes 180 line breaks aren’t noticeable or important at all. This is a different case for the former reason. It’s impossibly not to see it. If you don’t know why you do a double-take maybe it’s because Wright just wants to hit the feeling of oddness in an otherwise very “normal” scene.