If a fairy tale married a CIA agent, their daughter would look exactly like "Hanna." No, really. That must have been the pitch to get this movie made, and thanks to a magnetic performance by Saorise Ronan in the title role, it works.
Granted, believing in fairy tales helps fill in some big holes in the plot, and director Joe Wright isn't exactly subtle dropping in Brothers Grimm references from beginning to end.
But it's refreshing to remember that the best classic fairy tales were also feminist training manuals before their time, featuring young girls as their heroes, who proved more than a match for whatever wicked wolves, black-hearted witches or evil stepmothers tried to mess with them.
Hanna begins this tale like a cross between an ice princess and Hiawatha, being raised by her papa (Eric Bana) in a remote white landscape just south of the Arctic Circle. Here she learns the basics, like how to bring down an elk down with a single arrow, how to gut it, how to snap an adversary's neck and how to speak every language in Europe.
She's being trained for her destiny, we learn. Where she's headed, all those languages she's learning will come in handy.
Aside from the age and gender of the protagonist, "Hanna" follows "Source Code" as the latest post-Bourne spy thriller where the central figure not only has to outsmart and out-fight those nasty people chasing her, but figure out her true identity along the way.
Making her life that much more miserable is the always great Cate Blanchett as the wicked witch, er, CIA administrator. Blanchett obviously relishes the sheer nastiness of her role, playing it so gleefully devoid of conscience, she'd be a great love interest for Javiar Bardem in "No Country for Old Men."
After showing himself a fine visual stylist in "Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement," Joe Wright effortlessly moves into more kinetic territory with this "Run Lola Run"-style jolt of celluloid adrenaline. But his centerpiece - giving "Hanna" both its focus and its soul -is the fascinating Ronan, who just turned 17 last Tuesday. While nimbly giving the film all the kick-ass girl power it can handle, she can also speak volumes without saying a word.
As an actress she definitely has wisdom beyond her years, but she has the even more elusive quality of being a natural movie star. No matter the angle, the camera is transfixed by her face whenever she appears in the viewfinder. The camera can't help being mesmerized, and neither can anyone in the audience.
"Hanna" is a fine reminder that for all the happily ever afters in your kids' bedtime stories, fairy tales are also breeding grounds for nightmares in young minds. It also points up what quaint things stories have become in our times, replaced by more modern, efficient -and more marketable -concepts.
"Hanna" is a concept as much as a story. While it provides rich emotions and unexpected surprises to tie its loose ends together, you find yourself hoping for a sequel almost before its final frame.
We've turned the corner from stories instructing us how to be more human, to products intent on repackaging our humanity as more of a commodity.
This transformation is happening more and more, faster and faster. We need a new word to describe the replacement of life as we know it by this new state of being. Let's call it virtualocity -part virtuosity, part atrocity, part human but mostly not.
Case in point, the new movie "Arthur."
Back in 1981, it was the story of a dissipated but lovable millionaire who had this problem, uh, growing up. Following up on his smash hit "10," Dudley Moore was great in the role, relying on drunkenly shlurring his lines, and getting extra comic mileage as an unlikely babe magnet from his diminutive stature. Sir John Gielgud played his take-no-nonsense butler, Hobson -sort of a Jiminy Cricket conscience, with an English accent.
Casting Russell Brand in the remake would seem to be a no-brainer. He hilariously demonstrated his own fondness for wretched excess in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek," and his lovability is just as evident in the tamed-down, PG-rated "Hop," on top at the box office for its second week. And letting Helen Mirren give Hobson a sex change also seemed brilliant, adding an Oedipal dimension to the tough love she shows her man-child.
So what's not to like? That's what I kept wondering watching "Arthur" slog toward its happy ending.
It seems that they no longer have a story worth telling. "Arthur" is a movie about another movie; that one had a point in its time, but not in ours.
They had to make Arthur a billionaire this time, one more reminder that money doesn't go as far as it used to, especially when it comes to paying for the best things in life. You know, the free stuff like a story.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com