We've seen all the elements of "Hanna" before: the reluctant government agent who wants to quit the game, the lab-created superbeing who wishes only to be a normal person, the heartless head of a black-ops program gone wrong, even the fey assassin with the German accent and bleached blond hair.
The script by Seth Lochhead and David Farr is malleable pulp, the kind where a killer utters the same cryptic line to start the film and end it. Director Joe Wright, known for the period pieces "Atonement" and "Pride and Prejudice," has shaped it into a unique work of fiction.
The story begins in remote Finland, where a widower (Eric Bana) has raised his 16-year-old daughter (Saoirse Ronan) in solitude. She's an exceptional child, the result of an ill-omened scientific experiment to create children who would grow up to be warriors with exceptional strength and intelligence.
He has taught young Hanna half a dozen languages, world history, sciences and a mantra she must never forget: Somewhere in the world is ruthless Marissa (Cate Blanchett), who oversaw the experiment and ordered all participants destroyed. Hanna must kill her or be killed by her. When the girl thinks she is ready to begin the hunt, her father will cut her loose.
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A better film would have explained what happened before Hanna was born, and why the other kids were terminated. (If she's an indication, the program seems to have been a smashing success.) It would have avoided clumsy moments where smart characters behave in inexplicably stupid ways: Even after Hanna slays two armed adult agents by herself, Marissa fails to realize how dangerous the girl can be.
It might even have made real characters of Marissa and Hanna's dad, who cease to interest us the moment they're out of our sight. (Blanchett's one-note, icy performance is among her dullest.) But Hanna's a memorable creation, a girl who carries danger with her like a plague and can never achieve the normality she envies in others her age.
Ronan's pale blue eyes can seem vulnerable or inscrutable, wistful or deadly. As Hanna latches onto a family of British vacationers traveling around north Africa and Spain, she tries to blend in - but how can she, when a boy who wants to kiss her ends up on the ground in neck-snapping position? (Apparently, her dad forgot to explain the consequences of puberty.)
Wright and his writers may have ambitions beyond scaring us. At times, I thought they were making a case against the dehumanization of children by manipulative, overdemanding parents.
Marissa represents the unofficial "mother" of kids in her program, and Hanna's father doesn't teach her to become fully human: Philosophy, music, art, religion and poetry aren't part of his world, where everything contributes directly to survival.
Even if Hanna kills Marissa and everyone else who stands between her and security, she'll be no closer to happiness or peace. You don't have to be the parent of an assassin - or the target of one - to realize that a life spent merely surviving can't be fulfilling.