Megaplexes have been littered with coldblooded, hyper-stylized, smirkily transgressive meta-thrillers in recent years. But the teenage-assassin saga Hanna, the latest entry in the Everybody Wants to Be Brian De Palma Sweepstakes, is also one of the best — largely because director Joe Wright makes its hit-man super-heroics chilling, not cool.
Essentially home-schooled by her dad (Eric Bana) in the ABCs of hand-to-hand combat, weapons handling and black ops, the adolescent heroine (Saoirse Ronan, from Wright's Atonement) emerges from the frozen Arctic like a hybrid of Sissy Spacek's Carrie and the Terminator. Her prey — secret agent Marissa (Cate Blanchett), a sharply dressed steel magnolia who accessorizes with handguns — thinks that she's the hunter. Then the wraithlike waif wipes out a roomful of agents and takes off for parts unknown.
Wright, working from a script by Seth Lochhead and David Farr, flashes a bleak wit but keeps the tone admirably icy. Coded into the movie is a metaphor for tiger-mom/dad parenting meant to toughen kids for the adult world, and fairy tales figure into the plot as grown-up warnings. But does this produce a human being or a functioning cog? Death carries a sting here as the toll mounts, fed by friends and innocents who resist such robotics. The weight of all that businesslike killing registers in the three leads' varying levels of dehumanization.
Wright's camera gymnastics evoke the constant presence of danger — kudos to ace cinematographer Alwin Kuchler — but the emphasis is on the target's life-or-death desperation, not the director's skill at snapping the moving parts into place.
It helps that the performers are so committed, especially Ronan's feral intensity, which catapults the movie over its numerous implausibilities. You not only believe that a kid can kill with Jason Bourne-like efficiency but you also might actually care.