Dir. Joe Wright, 111 min., in theaters
I have to admit that having missed out on Atonement (2007), I don’t have too much of a basis for critiquing the style of Joe Wright’s films (the only other one I’ve seen being his 2005 Pride and Prejudice). However, after this film, I can say that whatever his style is, I like it.
Hannah (Saoirse Ronan), the daughter of Erik (Eric Bana) is stalked by Erik’s former handler, Marissa (Cate Blanchett). And that is about it in terms of plot. Sure there are typical spy developments on who is related to whom and how, but mostly it is just a great chase thriller where the only thing we need to know is that the spymaster wants the rouge agent and his daughter dead.
Spy films in general have too many characters. I was just talking to my students the other day about the minimalist aesthetic, and I think this is a genre that benefits from a few well developed characters. Certainly late act introductions and long screen absences make the plot harder to follow, but they also water down characters and make for a less interesting film. No problems with that issue here, as the few supporting characters fill their temporary niches well and then disappear.
Marissa’s character is especially strong in this film, given that she could have easily been swallowed up by Ronan’s performance. Cate Blanchett channels a combination of the cold ambition of Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton (2007), the personal eccentricities of an assassin exemplified by Javier Bardem from No Country for Old Men (2007), and the southern accent of Kira Sedgwick from The Closer (or maybe Jodie Foster from The Silence of the Lambs, but more gutsy).
The film in general reminded my wife and I of Run Lola Run (1998), probably because of the strong female protagonist, but also due to the dance club soundtrack that permeates the film. As nice as this film is to look at, the aural experience is even better. The sound editing was excellent in both the effects department and the soundtrack. I don’t recall hearing a single 1970’s classic rock hit, which always makes me a happy camper.
Ronan cuts a striking figure as a dangerous girl killer who flashes into moments of adolescent innocence and awkwardness. Her range in this film was impressive, and I now want to see Atonement (2007) all the more for her Academy Award nominated performance.
For every really bad spy film I sit through, there is at least one redeeming entry in the genre which keeps me coming back for more, and this film certainly falls into this category. I almost feel like it makes up for the terrible disappointment of Salt (2010), my last summer film from last year.