Growing up is hard to do, especially for Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), a 16-year-old girl who has spent her formative years hidden away from society, being trained by her father (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA operative, in assassination techniques and survival skills. Living in the wastelands of northern Finland, he has been preparing her for a special mission out in the larger world. Eventually, she must leave their frozen hideaway to deal with unfinished family business that involves a ruthless CIA agent (Cate Blanchett) who — surprise, surprise — will stop at nothing to capture her.
"The best way I can describe the film is as a fairy tale gone wrong," Bana says over the phone from his native Australia. "When I had the first conversation with [director] Joe Wright, I could see he had a great take on the concept, and it went from being a standard action movie to being this comic book fairy tale. The film is going to have a very unique flavour to it."
With stylish panache and a distinctive visual feel, there is a lot about Hanna that screams "cult film." Nothing more so than the fact that it features young Ronan as a teenage assassin, a challenging role for the Irish actor (she was born in New York, but moved to Ireland when she was three) known for her work in Atonement, The Lovely Bones and most recently Peter Weir’s The Way Back. The film reunites Ronan with Wright, who directed her in Atonement when she was just 12 years old."I liked the idea of doing something different," Ronan says during a recent interview in London, England. "When I first read the script, I thought that would be fun to do, as it was a more physical role. Being keen to find out more about the film, I had a meeting with Focus Features and we talked about the possibilities of making it. They didn't have a director at that point, so I said, 'Why don't you get Joe Wright to do it?' I had worked with him before when I was in Atonement, and I wanted to work with him again, so he was a great choice. Now the ongoing joke is that I'm his new agent and I get Joe all his work," she says with a grin.
After first working with Wright when she was a tween, Ronan says the experience was much better the second time around. "Joe really noticed how much I had changed, so much so that he was freaked out for the first few days," she says. "I had gone from being a 12-year-old to being a 16-year-old. It was better because we were able to talk more, much more so than when I was 12, so I think it brought us closer."
Eric Bana in Hanna (Courtesy of Focus Features)
"I can relate to her in the same way as other teenagers would," she says. "She is at an age where she is experiencing lots of changes with the way she views the world around her, in her case doubly so as she has gone from living an isolated existence to being thrust upon society. It is a complete culture shock for her. She is a young girl who has grown up in a forest and she doesn’t know anyone else except for her father. Suddenly she is out in this huge world where things that are completely unknown to her are happening — there are bad people, and good people, beautiful things and ugly things. It's a frightening place for her."
Bana, who started his career as a comedian in Australia but is no stranger to serious films thanks to parts in Black Hawk Down and Munich, says this role was one of his most interesting yet. "It's a great part because it is a mixture between a classic special services [operative] and having the strongest fatherly instincts that one could have. It was a unique mixing of the two, which made it a lot of fun. There is no more dangerous man than someone who is protecting their loved ones."
No action film would be complete without fight scenes, and Bana was particularly impressed by how Ronan took to the rigorous training, because if his young co-star didn't sell the action scenes, the whole movie would fall apart. "Both her role and my role were very much hinged on her physicality and her ability," he says. "It was a very extreme process for her to go through at her age. It was a huge relief to me in the second week of training when I got to see how hard she had been working, and just how tough she was and prepared to learn."
Hanna also marks a first for veteran U.K. electro band The Chemical Brothers. After contributing three original songs to last year's ballet drama Black Swan, the band was in charge of creating Hanna's original score. At first they may seem an unusual choice — popular in the 1990s, the group's visibility has since slipped — but Bana thinks it makes perfect sense.
"I've always enjoyed listening to The Chemical Brothers and was excited when I heard they were going to be in the film's soundtrack," he says. "When I saw the final cut of the film with their music in it, I was blown away — it was the last piece of the puzzle. I think it really does complete the film in terms of its style and tone and how it feels."
Ronan agrees, saying that she's become a big Chemical Brothers fan, going out of her way to listen to all of their albums. When it comes to music, however, she admits her favourite songs are all by Lady Gaga — who did not make Hanna's soundtrack. It seems Ronan has more pull when it comes to choosing directors.
Mark Pilkington is a freelance movie writer based in London, England.
Cate Blanchett in Hanna (Courtesy of Focus Features)
You never know who, or what, you’re going to inspire. Director Joe Wright admits Cate Blanchett’s character (seen above), a witchy CIA agent, was based on one of his primary school teachers. "Her name was Priscilla, and she was sexy and well-kept," he says. "She wore thick make-up and stockings that had a sheen and made noise when she walked. At story time, the girls used to sit and stroke her legs as they sat around her."