'Hanna': A Killer Grows Up In A Fairy Tale

Originally published on April 10, 2011 6:43 pm

Director Joe Wright's new film, Hanna, tells the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl raised by a single father in a remote Finnish forest.

Oh, yes, and did we mention — Hanna's father raised her to be a stone-cold assassin.

No standard teen heroine, Hanna — played by the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan — spends most of the film on the run, pursued by CIA agents and swiftly dispatching anyone who gets in her way.

This action-thriller is quite a departure for Wright, who's known for period pieces like Pride and Prejudice and Atonement.

"I like working outside of my comfort zone," Wright tells All Things Considered guest weekend host Linda Wertheimer. "I was so nervous of the action sequences, that I just tried to pretend it was like the dance sequences in Pride and Prejudice."

Hanna is as much fractured fairy tale as action thriller, something that becomes apparent when Cate Blanchett makes her entrance as the wicked stepmother character — a CIA operative with murderous intentions towards young Hanna.

"It's about a young person, growing up in the safety of a family home, who reaches an age where she needs to go and explore the world," Wright says.

In the story, Hanna encounters evil for the first time and must overcome it — at a cost.

"It is a fairy tale, and fairy tales, by their very nature, are violent and dark," Wright says. "In 'Hansel and Gretel,' two children take an old lady and put her in an oven. I think that fairy tales need to confront the dark side and overcome it."

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Hanna has been brought up in extreme isolation in the forest of Finland and trained by her father to be a killer. The movie was directed by Joe Wright, who's probably best known for the most recent version of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," not for the chases and fights you'll see in "Hanna."

JOE WRIGHT: You know, the whole kind of action aspect of the movie was something that I thought would be interesting to explore. And I like working outside of my comfort zone.

WERTHEIMER: In "Pride and Prejudice," they occasionally walk into the village.

WRIGHT: Yeah. That was pretty (unintelligible).

WERTHEIMER: Sometimes they engage in a bit of country dancing. But it's not the same thing. I mean, it's not even close.

WRIGHT: No. No. Although actually, I was so nervous of the action sequences that I just tried to pretend it was like the dance sequences in "Pride and Prejudice" and just, you know, fooled myself that way.

WERTHEIMER: Your heroine, who is a incredibly beautiful young girl, Hanna, lives in a cottage in the woods, and it's all covered with snow. And as the movie goes on, the wicked stepmother shows up. You have lots of fairy tale elements in this movie. Was that part of the deal?

WRIGHT: It's about a young person growing up in the safety of a family home who reaches an age where she needs to go and explore the world, so embarks on that journey and is confronted by evil for the first time and is required to overcome that evil but at some cost.

WERTHEIMER: Did you worry about the notion that a beautiful child who is incredibly murderous would be a heroine that the public would have a tough time with?

WRIGHT: I mean, "The Little Mermaid," that's essentially a story of suicide. The mermaid kills herself at the end of "The Little Mermaid, and obviously not in the Disney colonized version. And in "Hansel and Gretel," you know, two children take an old lady and put her in an oven. I think that fairy tales need to confront the dark side and overcome it.

WERTHEIMER: You worked on music videos in the early days with The Chemical Brothers, the outfit that provided the score for "Hanna." What made you think they would be the right sort of sound for this movie?

WRIGHT: You know, having only worked with orchestral scores before, I kind of liked the idea of blurring the division between music and sound effects so that sound effects kind of become the music and vice versa, and also because they work so extraordinarily with drum patterns. And they're the kind of best drum programmers around, really, and I felt that this film needed a kind of - quite a pulsing rhythm.


WERTHEIMER: I must say that where I really noticed them was in that container scene where Hanna is trying to escape from some people who are chasing her through a whole field of cargo containers.


WERTHEIMER: At some point, I realized that the noise was not so much people leaping from one to the other, but there was a drum score.

WRIGHT: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I liked the idea of kind of disorientating the audience. And a lot of the film does that very kind of purposefully.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that your next project will take you in another direction.

WRIGHT: Uh-huh. We're hoping to make an adaptation of "Anna Karenina."

WERTHEIMER: "Anna Karenina" after this movie. I mean, this must be a bit of a swift 180 for you.

WRIGHT: I love - I mean, I love film. You know, I love all types of all film and all genres. In fact, I kind of try to live and work outside of genre classification. And I relish storytelling, really, and the chance film gives us to see the world from another person's point of view.

WERTHEIMER: Joe, thanks very much.

WRIGHT: Thank you very much, indeed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.