Starring:Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana

Director: Joe Wright

“What did your mother die of?”
“Three bullets.”

16-year-old Hanna has been brought up in the wilds of Finland by her father, Erik, and trained as an assassin to prepare her for the day she is ready to leave and explore the world outside. When that day comes, Hanna finds herself hunted by intelligence agent Marissa, who is intent on stopping Hanna discovering the truth about herself.

So, if you’ve ever wondered what an action movie made by a director previously known for period dramas and Jane Austen adaptations is like, here you go. Joe Wright, who gained much acclaim for 2007′s Atonement and not so much acclaim for 2005′s not-as-good-as-the-Colin-Firth-one version of Pride & Prejudice, wanders from his comfort zone for this bizarre mix of spy thriller and Grimm’s fairytale. Welcome to the weird world of Hanna.

As with last year’s George Clooney vehicle, The American, those who choose Hanna expecting a fast-paced, thrill-a-minute action flick are going to be a little disappointed, not to mention somewhat perplexed. Hanna seems intent on defying expectations from the off, but that doesn’t mean it fails within its chosen genre. It just does things a little differently. Rather than assault us with a barrage of action scenes, Hanna sprinkles them sparingly on an otherwise thoughtful and languid story. So, when events spring to life, accompanied by the pounding Chemical Brothers soundtrack, you are obliged to take notice.

Following the current trend for using Europe as the setting for espionage movies, Wright still manages to make his movie look different to the rest. From the opening moments in Hanna’s beautiful snowbound home to the bookend scene in an abandoned carnival in Berlin, Wright lends the movie an almost otherworldly quality. This is the world we know, but just a little off-kilter, a little surreal. It is the perfect palette for painting this dark fairytale.

Hanna’s ‘I Hate Ska’ T-shirt didn’t go down well in Camden

Saoirse Ronan is a commanding presence in the title role, able to display all the wonderment and emotion on Hanna’s face as she discovers the world, and then switch it all off when the killer emerges. Eric Bana is his usual likeable self as Hanna’s protective and equally dangerous father. Tom Hollander is frankly bizarre, and not very threatening, as a bleached blonde, possibly gay, rent-a-thug with neo-nazi skinheads in tow. However, the genuine threat comes from Blanchett, clearly enjoying herself in the ‘wicked witch’ role as the sinister, embittered and manipulative agent hunting Hanna down.

If there is a fault in Hanna, and unfortunately it’s a pretty big fault, it is one of style over substance. While the movie looks lovely, and clearly draws from a plethora of influences, it is strangely difficult to find any emotional attachment to the characters, especially Hanna herself. This often leaves you with one foot out of the picture, less invested in the fate of the characters than you should be. It’s an odd development for a director more recognised for character-driven pieces.

Still, for its beautiful visuals, cracking soundtrack and the simple pleasure of watching a 16-year-old girl opening a can of whup-ass on a bunch of tough guys, Hanna is well worth your time.

Rating – 3 Stars

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Robin Hood

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow, Mark Strong, William Hurt and Danny Huston

Director: Ridley Scott

When I first heard about this movie, I groaned and rolled my eyes. Does the world really need another Robin Hood movie? I’m still recovering from Kevin Costner’s dreadful effort. Still, I’m a sucker for historical movies so I thought I’d give it a try.

Ridley Scott doesn’t seem able to make a movie these days without calling for Russell Crowe and asking if he can come out and play. And while Robin Hood may seem like Maximus Hood on the outside, it’s a better film than Gladiator. Throwing out much of what you would expect from a story about the famous outlaw, this is instead an origin movie. Setting itself around historical events, Robin Hood explores how the man developed his penchant for the redistribution of wealth. Beginning as a bowman for Richard the Lionheart’s crusades, Robin Longstride returns to England after the King’s death to find the country subject to the tyranny of the new King, John, and the machinations of Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong in his default ‘evil’ setting), who is secretly aiding a French invasion. Robin (not a merry man) travels to Nottingham, with three of his comrades (who actually are merry men) in tow, to return the sword of a fallen soldier. There he meets Marian (not so merry) and takes the role of her dead husband in order to save her land. From here he begins his journey toward becoming the world’s most famous hoodie.

Scott has a talent for big scale battle scenes, and Robin Hood is bookended by two of his best. The siege of Chalus-Chabrol at the beginning and the beach defeat of the French army at the end are both beautifully realised. Crowe carries the movie with his usual surly manner, albeit with a sometimes dodgy accent, and he is ably supported by Blanchett and an excellent Von Sydow. Mark Strong seems to be permanently stuck in the role of dastardly villain, but hopefully he’ll be able to elevate himself beyond that in Hollywood, as he did on British TV for years.

Ridley Scott decides to take a few historical liberties.

Robin Hood was a lot better than I expected it to be, certainly the freshest and most realistic interpretation of the legend to be put on celluloid. There are a few historical inaccuracies, but they are minor quibbles, rendered irrelevant by the mythical nature of the subject, anyway.

 

Rating - 4 Stars

Have you ever felt like you are the only person who loves a particular movie, or indeed has even seen it? Yeah, me too. There are some films which you watch, adore and then wonder why no-one else is talking about them. Somehow, they slipped through the net and swam away unnoticed, barely causing a ripple in the water. Some receive critical applause and yet make no money at the box office, some receive neither critical applause or commercial return at all, and some simply don’t enter the annals of their genres with the amount of respect and recognition that you feel they deserved.

Here are the five movies which I feel deserved a far bigger fanfare than they were accorded. My overlooked gems. Feel free to add your own.

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Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang

Having written some of the sharpest and wittiest action movies of the last twenty-five years (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight), Shane Black finally got the director’s chair with Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang. Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer share a great comic chemistry as a petty thief mistaken for an actor and a gay Private Investigator, caught up together in the intrigues of a seedy Hollywood. The plot is a tightly woven web of insane circumstances, paying an almost sarcastic homage to classic Noir, right down to Downey Jr.’s self-aware narration and love of crime novels featuring a detective with the inspired name of Johnny Gossamer. Val Kilmer has never been funnier, Downey Jr. is at his world-weary best and Black’s dialogue is of the sparkling standard that Tarantino has wet dreams about. And as far as I can tell, no-one saw it.

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May

Little known writer/director Lucky McKee should have made his name with this psychological horror, his second movie. However, even more deserving of wider recognition was lead actress Angela Bettis. May, a lonely young woman traumatised by an isolated childhood and minor disfigurement, is desperate to connect with someone, anyone, but lacks the social skills necessary to do so. May is a misfit in the deepest sense of the word, unable to exercise the normal modes of interaction which bring the world closer. As she tries, and fails, to develop relationships with those around her she gradually unravels to heartbreaking and horrifying effect. This is the kind of movie that hinges on a single performance and Bettis is phenomenal. Whether May’s actions are clumsy, vindictive or ultimately deadly, Bettis never allows our sympathies to drift away. That she did not break out into greater success on the back of this performance is a tragedy.

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Shadow of the Vampire

There are probably as many vampire films as there are Westerns, so popular is the genre, but ask anyone to name their favourite vampire flick and it’s unlikely that Shadow of the Vampire will be among many lists. That’s too bad because it gave a tired genre just what it needed; something a little different. Shadow of the Vampire is based on the actual production of Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s 1922 adaptation of Dracula, with one fictional element; Max Shreck, the actor who portrayed Count Orlock, is a vampire in real life and director Murnau is the only member of the crew who knows it. Willem Dafoe has a ball as the bald, rat-like Shreck and John Malkovich is at his lunatic best as the tyrannical filmmaker, allowing the vampire to consume expendable crew members, and promising him the leading lady at the end of filming in return for his co-operation. You are left in no doubt as to who the real monster is.

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Veronica Guerin

Taking a break from producing big, dumb summer blockbusters, Jerry Bruckheimer got behind this true story of the Irish journalist murdered by drug dealers in 1996. Slated in some quarters on its release, and ultimately recouping just over half its budget, Veronica Guerin is still a deeply affecting piece of cinema. Cate Blanchett, in the titular role, and director Joel Schumacher, wisely avoid going the route of presenting Guerin as a two-dimensional ‘plucky’ heroine. Instead we see a whole person; an obstinate, driven, but morally laudable woman who pursues the truth even when it threatens her and her family’s safety. And yet, thanks to Blanchett’s usual great work, she remains noble, admirable and completely sympathetic. The performances from all concerned are first class, and it’s a credit to Schumacher that the final, tragic resolution loses none of its impact, despite the foreknowledge.

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Wonder Boys

Coming off the success and acclaim of L.A. Confidential, journeyman director Curtis Hanson’s next project was a fantastic adaptation of Michael Chabon’s novel Wonder Boys. Charting one weekend in the complicated life of English Professor and novelist Grady Tripp, Hanson’s movie boasts a mouth-watering cast. Michael Douglas gives a career best performance as the pot smoking, crumpled writer, circumnavigating a multitude of woes in the midst of his faculty’s annual Wordfest convention. Tripp is juggling the exodus of his wife, the arrival of his editor (Robert Downey Jr.) who is keen to view the manuscript which Tripp cannot finish, the news that his girlfriend (Frances McDormand) is pregnant, the amorous attentions of one of his students (Katie Holmes) and the clingy depression of another (Tobey Maguire). Douglas is charming, witty and a lot of fun to be with, and so is Wonder Boys. A mystery, then, that the movie only managed a worldwide gross of two thirds its production budget.