Year Released: 2011
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Olivia Williams, Jessica Barden
(PG-13, 111 min.)
"When they came closer, they saw that the house was made of bread, and the roof was made of cake and the windows of sparkling sugar." The Brothers Grimm
This 2011 film, the precursor for the current Amazon series, is a perfect fit for our current culture – superb eye candy. All style and very little substance. A thriller shot like an MTV sequence, with a blaring sound track by the Chemical Brothers that varnishes it with a cool mystique that promises more than it delivers.
The plot is derivative, but it’s a creative hybrid of such diverse forbears as Frankenstein, La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element,, The French Connection and The Bourne Ultimatum, with echoes of Alice in Wonderland as well as allusions to telelvison’s “Mork and Mindy,” and Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” thrown in for good measure. And then there’s the overriding Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale motif.
Sixteeeen-year-old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), has been raised by her father (Eric Bana), an ex-CIA man, in the wilds of Finland. She has been tutored to be the perfect hunter warrior, linguist, and repository of encyclopedic knowledge. She can kill and gut a caribou while fending off her father’s war-gaming stealth attacks like the automaton he has trained her to be. Hanna can rattle off the definition for music, but she has no idea what the real thing is like. Like a computer she recites her fictitious Berlin address, the names of her “best friends” and hobbies, but none of it is real to her.
That is all about to change now as she declares herself ready to venture into that real world where she will meet and kill the enemy she and Eric have been hiding from all these years, Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett), a corrupt CIA agent. The cat and mouse game between the two cold blooded women is all the more interesting since they are each both the pursued and the pursuer. Hanna, the pale waif with her shaggy blond mane, and Marissa with her red helmet of hair, fitted suit and matching pumps may both be “overcoached porcelain ice maidens,” as critic Kyle Smith dubs them, yet they are also reminiscient of Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the East, the one that Dorothy accidentally kills in her rough landing in Oz. Maybe it’s those round toed pumps that Marissa wears, or the close up of them as they click across the room.
Hanna’s landing isn’t quite so lucky, though. Our witch is not caught off guard; she is a bit more wary and sends in a surrogate to interview the waif, so it is her neck that is broken in the aftermath of a simpering Hanna’s embrace and not the real Marissa’s. Hanna's postcard to Daddy saying “The wicked witch is dead,” is like the reports of Mark Twain's death – highly exaggerated.
Dead or alive; it’s hard to tell, since Blanchett plays her part in such a bloodless way, trying to breathe a little color into it with a Texas twang that she turns off and on at will. Nor do we ever warm up to the almost soulless Hanna to any extent, except perhaps in the sequence in Morocco where she catches a ride with an eccentric English family on perpetual tour in their minibus.
Like their van, the mother Rachel (Olivia Williams) is lost in the land of the sixties, a compendium of every half-baked idea of freethinking parenthood that ever existed, yet sweet and warm enough to somehow make it work. She thinks it is perfectly fine that Hanna is completely on her own in the deserts outside of Morocco, where she has escaped from the clandestine CIA special underground interrogation facilities, a series of tunnels highly suggestive of Alice’s rabbit hole. Sophie (Jessica Barden), Rachel’s daughter, bubbles over with enough pop culture wackiness to make our heads spin, a vibrant counterpart to the lifeless knowledge stuffed into Hanna’s head by Eric. Hanna even rides a motorcycle and has a date of sorts, though her Spanish beau gets more than he bargained for when she suggests they kiss.
Except for this middle sequence, though, it is the settings that come alive rather than the characters. Like Hanna they are a study in contrasts, combining innocence and deadly intent. The beautiful stillness of the snow covered forest in Finland only seems to be serene, ending in the death of the caribou. Near Morocco a sterile interrogation chamber and underground compound hidden under the warm desert sands gives way to a market teaming with camel traders and gossiping vendors. Berlin with its overtones of Hitler’s eugenics is the setting of the final meeting with Hanna’s father. It is a collage of graffiti-tattooed walls, lonely train stations, and a haunting abandoned amusement park that seems to mock rather than honor the brothers Grimm for which it is named.
This kaleidoscope of life and color helps us suspend our disbelief -- all the way to the parking lot, where we wonder at the sheer -- is it intellectual laziness? -- that has such implausible happenings as Eric leaving the Finish cabin in nothing but a business suit, somehow walking and swimming his way to Berlin. What about the fact that Marissa is still searching for Eric after some fifteen years, or believing that the black box gadget that Hanna switches on in their cabin will suddenly alert the CIA of their existence?
Take in the color, ride the thrills, and let the adrenaline flow, but let your little gray cells keep dozing.
Germany is where our story begins and where it ends as well. The secret to Hanna’s past is there at the house of magic where her mother’s old friend still lives and in the apartment of her grandmother.
Let’s welcome Hanna back home with some fine German cooking. In honor of Hanna’s prowess with the bow and arrow I have chosen a Schnitzel dish especially for hunters. You may use either veal, as the original recipe suggests, or you may substitute chicken tenders or pork cutlets. Perhaps even venison if you yourself are a mighty hunter as well.
I have tweaked the recipe a bit, adding more mushrooms and sour cream. I hope you like it.
Schnitzel Hunter Style
This 'hunter style' Schnitzel called jagerschnitzel is served with a creamy mushroom sauce and a perfect companion to either Spätzle or Knödel (German home-made dumplings).
4 veal scaloppini (you can substitute chicken tenders or pork cutlets)
2 tablespoons butter or canola oil
1/4 cup celery and 1 carrot, finely chopped
1 (8 ounce) oz can sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon flour,
½ cup sour cream
6 tablespoons white wine
Dry the veal with paper towels, tenderize with a meat mallet on both sides evenly, season lightly with pepper on both sides. Fry veal in butter or oil on medium heat in a well-seasoned cast iron or stainless steel skillet until golden brown on both sides for about 10 minutes total. Season lightly with salt, remove from skillet and set aside, keeping the veal warm (cover with tin foil). Stir in the finely chopped carrot and celery and the finely sliced mushrooms, sauté until tender, dust with the flour, season with salt, stir, add the wine and cook on medium heat for several minutes until sauce is thickened. Add the sour cream at the end, stir and remove skillet from heat. Plate the veal and spoon the sauce on top. Serve with Spätzle, mashed potatoes, rice, fresh salad.
Recipe Source: Bavarian Kitchen.com