WC11: Joe Wright, Saoirse Ronan Talk Girl Power In <i>Hanna</i> Panel

Spring comes with well-armed young women. Last month, Zack Snyder opened with his fantasy girl team-up Sucker Punch. This month, director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice) has a more serious take in Hanna, which he and star Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones) previewed Saturday at WonderCon in San Francisco.

Hanna is an espionage-thriller with a twist: Instead of a craggy British super-agent or a forgetful American Army experiment, the film follows a perfectly trained teenaged assassin. Raised by her father (Eric Bana) in an icy and isolated tundra, Hanna is taught to be the perfect weapon. What exactly Hanna plans to do with her assassin skills and hormonal rage remained a secret even after Wright and Ronan unspooled some lengthy clips.

Mostly known for brainy European cinema, Wright jumped the tracks a bit to direct Hanna. The film draws heavily from French New Wave and Italian film traditions, but is equally grounded in The Bourne Identity. Ronan came across the script first and sent it to Wright, hoping that the two could reunite on the project. Although Hanna is undeniably an action film, the two saw it as a “non-franchise” opportunity. “We kind of dreamed up this world together,” Wright said.

The two also used the film as a soapbox for women’s roles in the action genre. “I remember when the Spice Girls came out in the ‘90s,” Wright said. “And, they called that girl power.” Wright and Ronan wanted to put a different kind of girl power on screen. “Female empowerment is not about sex,” the director said.

The director and actor fashioned Hanna into the opposite of Snyder’s pigtail-wearing, table-dancing girls. Hanna is an action character devoid of sexuality and experience. She’s been raised on martial arts and a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. She’s never even seen airplane. She’s innocent, pure and able to dispatch just about any man.

Ronan enjoyed playing the unspoiled Hanna. It was “one of the most pure experiences I’ve had as an actor,” she said. “I like how clear her [Hanna’s] mind is.” And, although Ronan is just 16 years old, her previous roles have already demonstrated that she's an able actor, nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Atonement.

In the two WonderCon clips, the audience got a healthy dose of Wright and Ronan's version of “girl power.” In the first clip, which lasted about a minute, Hanna tears through an underground lab, making quick work of several scientists and grabbing a file containing details about her mysterious background. The second clip was a chase through a loading dock in which Hanna evades a host of well-armed men before killing several in nearly effortless, flowing maneuvers.

Hanna’s innocence and her lack of exposure to the world, however, make up the heart of the film. Hanna even tries to befriend a girl her own age, her first friend, but the experience proves challenging. She isn’t ready to talk pop culture and bond with someone -- especially someone not as accustomed to violence.

Wright’s attempt to fashion his own take on action is clear. The scenes are pounding with a Chemical Brothers soundtrack that adds a quick pace. Wright has been following the group since 1992, and hoped the duo would make the seats rumble with its distinctive beats. The fights are a little reminiscent of the hurried scenes used to great effect in the Bourne trilogy; Wright even employed the same fight choreographer. But, to distinguish Hanna, the director also chose to film his fight scenes as single takes, resulting in fluid, thumping action easily discernible from the Bourne tradition.

Ronan trained for the part in Los Angeles, later bringing her regiment back to Ireland. The constant sessions brought her muscles that she claimed she never had before. Her new skills also made her “feel quite grounded.” Even with the added weight, Ronan is still slight, and watching her 16-year-old Hanna kill heavily armed men with just a knife delivers on some of the girl power she and Wright promised. Although the trailers have omitted them, Ronan also promised “I held a gun a lot in this film.”

Hanna, which Ronan called “a very dark and messed-up fairy tale,” opens Friday.

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