In a remote snowy forest in the far north, a figure in camouflage stalks a reindeer with a bow and arrow. An arrow flies, the deer tumbles off across a lake to die an agonizing death. But the hunter, a teenage girl, gives chase.
“I just missed your heart,” she observes, and then dispatches the beast, skins and dresses it.
Her dad (Eric Bana) is the only one not impressed at her prowess. He’s given to ambushing her like Kato in the “Pink Panther” movies – constantly testing her, their knife fights preparing her for the ugly outside world he’s protected her from all her life.
“You must always be ready,” he warns. “Adapt. Or die!”
What he has raised here north of the Arctic Circle is a strong, resourceful and remorseless killing machine. And what he has in mind for her is the heart of “Hanna,” a furious neck-snapping thriller that summons up memories of a dozen other movies and manages to improve on most of them.
Saoirse Ronan has the title role, a wily, physically fit and lethal girl who announces “I’m ready,” and proceeds to take down a few of the commandos who arrive when she switches on the transponder that gives away Dad’s location. Erik was an agent who went rogue and disappeared.
Now, Hanna must pay for father Erik’s sins, or get his revenge for him. The drawling beast of a boss (Cate Blanchett at her sinister best) is Hanna’s target. And that boss is determined to take out Erik, the father who raised the assassin.
“She won’t stop until you’re dead, or she is,” Dad has warned. So Hanna has her mission. Who will kill whom in this lightning-fast chase across North Africa and Europe?
“Hanna” doesn’t so much sprint across the screen as pulsate, pounding from Morocco to Spain and north to Berlin to the beat of a breathless Chemical Brothers score. We see her escape from an underground spy base and hook up with a family of British hippies. Olivia Williams is the mom, and smart-mouthed Jessica Barden of “Tamara Drewe” is the teen who doesn’t realize that her unworldly new friend isn’t as helpless around Spanish boys as she might be.
One of the biggest surprises in all this is that “Hanna” is from the director of “Atonement,” “The Soloist” and “Pride & Prejudice.” Joe Wright, working from a script by Seth Lochhead and David Farr (the British spy series “MI-5”), delivers jolts and menace and action movie problem solving aplenty. This is a “Bourne” movie where the hero is a girl utterly naive to the real world. She’s never seen a city, never been kissed. But it’s the big, bad world that had better be on its guard.
Wright and the writers work in all these film-buff friendly touches, references to earlier classic thrillers. There’s a chase through an empty amusement park, a villain who fidgets with ball bearings, another (Tom Hollander, the deadly officious fop in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies) who whistles and is a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood gay cliches, the homicidal homosexual sadist.
That lethal combination makes “Hanna” alternately nerve-wracking and funny, a version of “The American” in which our loner-killer is amusingly befuddled by this or that detail of a world she has experienced little of. That makes for a thriller that is every bit as ruthlessly efficient and merciless as its titular heroine.
*** 1/2 *
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Jessica Barden, Olivia Williams, Tom Hollander
Director: Joe Wright
Running time: 1:58
Rating: PG-13; intense sequences of violence and action, sexual material, language