Is Saoirse Ronan the new Meryl Streep? For years Streep was almost as well known for her facility with world accents as she was for her acting ability. Her aptitude for everything from Danish (“The Bridges of Madison County”) to Polish (“Sophie’s Choice”) to New Zealand (“A Cry in the Dark”) to Bronx (“Doubt”) to Midwestern (“A Prairie Home Companion”) dialects became such a topic of conversation that even her Wikipedia page has a section titled “Accents and dialects.”
Now, along comes Ronan, a prodigiously talented young actress, who speaks with an Irish brogue in real life, but uses a variety of inflections on-screen. Scottish (“Atonement”), American (“The Lovely Bones), Polish (“The Way Back”) and English (“Death Defying Acts”)—she can do it all.
In her new film, “Hanna” she aces a German accent putting her one step closer to Streep territory. She plays the title character, a blonde, blue-eyed killing machine, the right age to be a Hannah Montana fan, except she’s never heard music and has no idea who Miley Cyrus is. She was home-schooled with über tough love by her father and ex-CIA agent Eric (Eric Bana) in the remotest part of Finland. He trains her to survive, to adapt or die. When her boot camp is completed she activates an electronic signal and with the words, “Marissa Wiegler, come and get me,” begins a wild life-or-death chase through Morocco and Europe. CIA operative Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) is desperate to bring Hanna in before a secret about her past is revealed.
“Hanna” isn’t exactly an action movie, although there are a number of breathless fight scenes, it’s more of a coming-of-age story about a feral girl learning about the outside world. Director Joe Wright weaves the action sequences throughout, but never forgets to develop Hanna’s character. Ronan plays her almost like an alien or someone from another time. She’s unaccustomed to TV, electricity and the comforts of modern life and you can really see the learning curve on the actresses’ open face. It’s a remarkable performance aided by Wright’s sure handed direction. Set to an anxiety inducing soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers he frames every scene with its own personality. For instance, when Hanna is with an English family she adopts for a time, the pace is gentle, there’s music and the tone is poignant as she observes a real family for the first time in her life. When she’s on her own the settings are discordant and strange.
It’s engrossing filmmaking—check out Hanna’s introduction to the modern world in a hotel in Morocco—that wordlessly brings the viewer into Hanna’s world.
“Hanna” is as good a thriller as we’ve seen for a long time, but it’s about more than just the thrills. There’s genuine heart here and that’s what makes it great. That and the mini-Meryl acting skills of Saoirse Ronan.