If you thought the average teenage girl had the potential to be a destructive force, try genetically altering them. Actually, please don’t. Imagine, though, if one were to go that route to see what military potential there was. If you can’t be bothered to ponder such a thing, watch ‘Hanna.’

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl who lives in Finland’s wilderness with her father Erik (Eric Bana). She is highly trained as a hunter and in survival techniques, presumably so she can be an assassin. For her entire life, Hanna has been shielded from the outside world.

One day, Erik presents her with a box with a switch. When she is ready to come out of hiding, she can flip the switch, which will reveal her location and she can face the ‘bad people’ who want to kill her. Feeling that she has learned all that she can, Hanna activates the box. Erik tells her that they must separate to be harder to track down. They agree to meet up at a specific location in Germany. He departs.

The person most interested in finding Hanna is CIA officer, Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett). She sends a team to the cabin in Finland. Erik is long gone, but Hanna is still there. She allows herself to be taken into custody. This takes her very close to Marissa, but also into the heart of a huge facility. This sets a cat and mouse game into motion where it’s not always completely clear who is the pursuer and who is pursued.

It’s rare that these action spectacles ever amount to anything other than some impressive visuals. While ‘Hanna’ is a very familiar story, it leans on the story first, only using fight sequences when they make sense. No sequences feel forced or unnatural. Human interaction and Hanna’s lack of familiarity with the outside world is at the forefront. In many ways, this is as much about a fractured family unit as it is about shady CIA operatives.

The Isaacs character (played by Tom Hollander) is a strange secondary villain. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt that he is a very adept killer. It’s sometimes hard to take him seriously with his striking haircut, his odd tracksuits and his borderline hilarious gait. Still, every film like this needs one of these character who gets his hands dirty and really helps the suspense. At least he is somewhat memorable.

Director Joe Wright is a newbie to the action genre. He is best known for ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and ‘Atonement’ so talk about a pick out of left field. A few of his chase scenes are very well done and some of them are reasonably extended. The problems arise when it comes to the hand-to-hand fighting. It often suffers from Bourne Syndrome. That is not a real affliction, but rather it describes many fight sequences that are clearly hamstrung by a PG-13 rating and therefore rely on frantic, choppy editing to both obscure violent detail and give the illusion of more things going on than is really the case. If you have seen any of the ‘Bourne Identity’ movies, you’ll recognize this. It should be said that a lot of the violence does get quite brutal for PG-13. There is a good amount of gore and though some of the violence is implied/ off-camera, it’s crystal clear what happens. We are frequently left with the aftermath of some icky killings.

There are other problems with how the camera is used. Okay, Hanna is alone in a room and something has just happened/is about to happen. We don’t need the camera to completely circle her to establish the area. One such shot is bad enough, but that happens two or three times. Also, what use do we have for all of the close-ups of her face at different angles while she is running? It’s as if Wright feels the need to constantly keep up with the pace set forth by the Chemical Brothers’ throbbing score. Allow the action on screen to provide the excitement, don’t fake it with the camera. Speaking of the music, when they contributed to ‘Tron Legacy,’ it felt so logical, that it was almost obligatory. Here, its constant presence is a little bit of a curve ball. As such, the seemingly disparate forces create an oddly appealing union.

Ronan brings a calculated intensity to her role. Hanna is both coolly efficient and full of naïve wonder. Bana is no more or less than what the film requires. He is much more suited to this than, say ‘The Hulk.’ It’s a matter of being as good as the material. Blanchett is the other major player worth mentioning. It’s strange to hear her adopt a Southern drawl, though she hardly embarrasses herself at it. For much of the film, she remains detached form the mission, involved in the hunt from a distance. When she rolls up her sleeves and takes matters into her own hands, then we learn about her obsession and stake in this.

Special features include: commentary, an alternate ending, a deleted scene and a behind the scenes look at the film’s big escape sequence. After seeing the alternate ending, it’s even easier to appreciate how perfectly the film comes full circle without this unnecessary scene.

‘Hanna’ can appeal to a wide audience. Straightforward action is given plenty of time to shine, but those who like a little drama and story to factor into the equation will also be happy. Sometimes it takes a roll of the dice with a solid director who is working outside of his usual comfort zone. There are some minor qualms with some technical approaches to the action, but Wright’s deft hand keeps the film on point more often than not.

Rated PG-13                 111 minutes          2011

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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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