Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I just missed your heart...

In the past week or so, I've come across several lists of the toughest chicks in fiction. Some of these were for chicks in movies. Some for television. Some for both. Some from literature. None of these lists included Hanna, and for that, I think they are all lacking. Yes, even the literature lists should have included Hanna; she's that kick butt! In fact, she's so kick butt, I'm sure that that's where that movie came from. Someone said, "Hey! Let's make a movie about a young girl that can kick butt like no body's business!"

Someone else tried to ruin  the party by saying, "But, wait, why can she kick so much butt?"

And that's where it all fell apart.

The movie, Hanna, is strung together on the very thinnest of plots. I mean Run, Lola, Run thin, but that one works better, because that's all the movie's supposed to be about. But the makers of Hanna, evidently, wanted the movie to appear as if it contains substance, so they tried to write a story as to why Hanna can and does kick so much butt. And I say makers, because I have no idea who might be at fault for this ill-conceived notion. Was it just bad writing from the start? Did the director dispense with the story in favor of the action? Did the producers demand it? Also, speaking of Lola, and I didn't time it, but I would guess somewhere close to 1/3 of Hanna is actually just music video of (mostly) her just running. Or crawling. Being chased, at any rate. Sometimes it's Erik.

Having said all of that, if you like a good action flick and don't need much story, it's a great movie. My friend, who took me to see it, certainly liked it much better than I did. The fight scenes are well done, and there's plenty of suspense wrapped up in the action. And running. Lots of running. And I bet the director or the writer or someone thought they were being very clever by wrapping the movies ending up in a circle to tie it back to the opening. Oh, but wait, I'm letting my antipathy for the story slip back in there.

The biggest issue with the story is that it resorts to the "big reveal" in order to explain the story all at once because it failed to provide the viewers with enough information as the movie progressed to figure anything out on  their own. Really, I hate this. Especially since they could have allowed us the information throughout the movie by cutting out 10 minutes of running.

Let me just say, though, that I'm not dissing "the big reveal" in and of itself. It's often a necessary plot device, especially in mysteries; however, if done poorly, it can ruin what might have been a good story. Here's an example from a couple of similar movies that were released back-to-back:

1. The Prestige (Oct, 2006): A movie about two magicians obsessed with learning how the other has performed a career-making trick. The clues are provided throughout the movie. If the viewer pays attention, s/he is able to put the pieces together and figure it out in advance. Or, at least, parts of it. When the big reveal (the prestige) comes, it is only to fill in viewers who may not have caught all of the clues. Very well done. [I own this movie, by the way. Hugh Jackman is excellent. It's also the type of movie that is better on a second or third viewing as you can see how the puzzle pieces are being put together.]

2. The Illusionist (Sept, 2006): Another movie about a magician pulling off an extraordinary illusion. The illusion is, in effect, the plot. The key to the movie. However, the movie fails to provide the information needed for the viewer to figure out the puzzle, so, during the big reveal, there are flashbacks with allow us to see all of the pieces that were not actually shown the first time through. Basically, the audience is not allowed to figure it out in process but thrown all of the left out pieces at the very end in order to see the whole picture. I find this to be a very cheap trick. Basically, the writer could not figure out a way to seed the story with the pieces needed so just withheld them all. This is the tactic Hanna uses.

Just a note: I think the best usage of the big reveal, at least in any recent movie, was The Sixth Sense. In fact, Shyamalan did it so well in that movie that it has sustained him for more than a decade of increasingly worse movies. That was free.

There was one other very positive aspect of Hanna: the acting. Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett are both excellent. In fact, they are the two characters that give the movie any sort of depth and weight. Saoirse Ronan (Hanna) does a fine job, but I haven't seen her in anything else, so I'm not sure if it was acting ability or just the way she is.

Well, I hope you still had your pop culture hats on from last time, but you can take them off now. At least, for a little while.


  1. Oh, I wanted to like Hanna. And then I ended up laughing at all the wrong parts. Saoirse Ronan is great though, you should check out Atonement.

    This is a great post--you've made me think about how I unfold my mystery plot. Pretty sure I did the big reveal in the first draft :)

  2. I haven't seen Hanna but I love movies with a kick ass heroine so I'll see it eventually when it's out on DVD. And Rachel is right: Saoirse Ronan is great.

    The Prestige was amazing. I loved that movie.

  3. I wanted to see this but maybe I will wait for it to come out on dvd. I believe the actress was the girl from the Atonement and The Lovely Bones. Both pretty good movies. I agree about the sixth sense although I have liked one or two other Shyamalan films,

  4. I didn't dislike Hanna as much as you. I actually consider it the best movie of the first third of 2011 (unless you count RUBBER but so few people have seen it.) Saoirse _is_ great. Her other movie with director Joe Wright, ATONEMENT, is one of the finest blends of cinematography and musical score ever created.

    My problems were (1) with Blanchett's accent. You've been away from home too long if you thought her accent was anything less than over-acted. (2) When the two girls are whispering in the van, they are both laying on the same side. There's no way that seen works the way it was shot. It speaks to a director who is too involved in other things -- like directing his first action movie -- to pay attention to detail.

    Also, you're kinda spoilery. :P

  5. I, too, adore a strong heroine, so I will most definitely have to see this one. Plus, I do like Cate and Eric very much. I found myself nodding along when you mentioned the whole "big reveal" plot technique, because yes, that is used quite a bit. Sometimes, as you said, it works; at other times, I'm left thinking, "Now that was just plain old-fashioned bad plot development."

    Great post! Oh, and I really enjoyed both magician films. And you're right--The Prestige does get better after the first initial viewing. Cheers!

  6. Haven't seen Hanna yet because the actress creeped me out so much in Atonement. I guess I'm going to have to get over that if she is going to be in The Hobbit.

    I will have to check out The Prestige though... adding that to my Netflix queue right now. :)

  7. Rachel: Yeah, I've been meaning to see Atonement; I just haven't remembered to have it sent, yet.

    M.J.: Have you seen Kick-Ass?

    Jennifer: Yeah, I like Unbreakable and Signs. I even liked The Village well enough, although I told my wife how the whole movie was going to within the first 10 minutes of it. But his movies have been on a steady downward slope just getting worse and worse.

    John: I'm sure I have been away too long. Talking to my mom on the phone sounds almost like talking to Blanchett with her southern on.
    And, hey, I don't actually mention anything that actually happens in the movie. It's not my fault that there's not enough story that just talking about the lack of story makes it spoilery :P

    Alyssia: You know what's worse than it being bad plot development? It's when the writer just decides that the audience is too dumb to figure anything out on their own and decides that spelling it out (via the big reveal) is the only way for the audience to "get" it.

    Julie: Let me know how you like Prestige. And I did actually look up her association with The Hobbit. Her role is not confirmed, yet, and it's not a very large role, either. Mostly just standing in the background. Unless Jackson decides to inflate a role for a character he made up.

  8. I haven't seen Hanna, but am rather fond of The Prestige due to part of its setting. ;0p Colorado Springs! Hey, you don't see this city in movies too often.

    I agree on Shyamalan, of course. Such a strong start. Such a disappointing downward spiral.

  9. Do you know, Andrew, it's interesting you should say that, too. About deciding your audience is just too dumb to get it. In an advanced writing class I took a few years back, one of the many snippets of writerly wisdom our teacher taught us was: "Always, always remember your reader is that much smarter than you." Of course she'd show us about an inch between her thumb and forefinger, but it's most definitely true.

  10. Agree completely. The visuals and acting were amazing, but they don't make up for a weak/nonexistent/HOLE-FILLED plot.

  11. I've never seen Hanna, but I agree with preferring sprinkled clues over a Big Reveal (though I like Ed Norton, so the Illusionist got a pass for me *shifty*)--seriously though--it DOES feel like cheating from the writer perspective.

  12. Great post! I haven't seen Hanna yet. My fifteen-year-old loves the trailers and is dying to see it. When I asked her why, she wasn't quite sure--just that it "looks awesome." I appreciate the review~ I think this one may be a pass for me after hearing about the lack of substance. I like action flicks, but I'm not sure this is for me. LOVE your mention of the differences between The Illusionist and The Prestige. I enjoyed The Prestige much more, and appreciate movies that are good, if not better, the second and third time you watch them.