Atonement director Joe Wright recruits his teenage star Saoirse Ronan for Hanna, an eccentric mix of modern day fairy-tale and action movie free-for-all, like Walt Disney’s Jason Bourne.

The film opens with a series of beautifully composed sequences set in the remote forest 60 kilometres below the Arctic Circle as Ronan’s Hanna silently hunts a reindeer with her bow and arrow. The teenage girl lives with her former CIA agent father Erik (Eric Bana) in a wooden hut, cut off from the rest of the world. There, he trains his daughter to be a killer, knowing that when she does return to civilisation, his enemies in the intelligence community will be coming after her. Under his guidance, Hanna has become expert in weapons, hand-to-hand fighting and stealth. He has taught her to speak a dozen languages but almost everything she knows about the world has come from a tattered encyclopaedia or a book of Grimm’s fairy tales and Hanna is hungry for more.

No sooner does she get her wish and announce her presence to the world, than an American military squad captures her and places her in a seemingly impregnable underground compound. There she awaits the arrival of wolfish CIA agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett), who holds the key to Hanna discovering her true identity and why she is the way she is. When Hanna escapes, and makes her way to Southern Spain with a family of holidaymakers, Marissa makes her pursuit,

What saves the film from going toe-to-toe with Zack Snyder’s glass-jawed Sucker Punch is Ronan’s certain performance, convincingly dangerous and, with her pale face and bleached eyebrows, unnervingly otherworldly. She might be called upon to say and do some odd things, but she rarely misses her footing, injecting her character with a potent combination of mystery, vulnerability and menace. Ronan’s thousand-yard stare is deeply disquieting; her big, blue pools suggesting either deep thought or dangerous detachment. Bana is tough and tender as the father, even if his abilities tip over into to the realms of the superhuman when his character swims across what seems to be the Arctic Sea in a two-piece suit. Blanchett’s evil agent makes for a threatening presence initially but is hampered with a character that is never more than a collection of bad-guy mannerisms and tics, adopting a Southern accent that stretches every vowel into an elongated threat. There’s also a deeply curious turn from Tom Hollander as a sadistic German mercenary charged with pursuing Hanna across mainland Europe, while whistling a jaunty tune.

Plausibility aside, the problem with Hanna is that it just isn’t exciting to watch. Wright throws his camera around with customary abandon but to little avail. His specially-commissioned soundtrack from The Chemical Brothers is all very energetic but Wright makes the MTV mistake of editing his action scenes to the flurrying music, rather than have the score underline and complement his images. The result is a swirl of camera juggling tricks (including Wright’s trademark 360 degree merry-go-round), blinking lights and juddering jump-cuts that together, give merely an impression of style. Technically, it’s well composed and carefully considered, but none of the director’s swoops and swirls add anything to how we feel about the characters or the story. The conclusion is that these things don’t matter as much and that’s a shame.

As Hanna makes her way out into the world, the people she comes into contact with seem less real than the pictures in her book of fairytales. This is as true for the good people, like the squabbling family of tourists headed by Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng that Hannah stows away with, as it is for the bad people, like Blanchett’s narrow-eyed villain and Hollander’s lip-smacking killer. As the story winds down to an inevitable series of stand offs and confrontations, Wright’s efforts to make an action movie from a bedtime story become increasingly strained, relying on cliché and clanging symbolism to carry him over the finish line.

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