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Interview: Joe Wright

April 7, 2011 12:14 a.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando interviews "Hanna director Joe Wright.

Related Story: Interview: Joe Wright


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

The new film "Hanna" (opening April 8 in select San Diego theaters) reunites director Joe Wright and his young "Atonement" star Saoirse Ronan for an action film. Listen to my radio feature or read the extended interview.

"Hanna" delivers an unexpected cinematic fairy tale. It focuses on a young girl, raised in the forest by her father, and then thrust out into a dangerous, modern world.

CLIP Papa... Remember what I taught you and you'll be fine.

JOE WRIGHT: It's very much a fairy tale.

Filmmaker Joe Wright.

JOE WRIGHT: I wanted a kind of atmosphere to the film that was difficult to pin down. It doesn't quite happen in the real world but it's not an all out fantasy.

Wright creates a brave new world, one that's both seductive and dangerous to an innocent newcomer like Hanna played by Saoirse Ronan.

CLIP I tried to prepare you for what your life would be... You didn't prepare me for this.

JOE WRIGHT: I was intrigued by the character of Hanna. I've always had an interest in these holy fool type characters and what these characters can teach us about our own behavior and civilization.

So we see the world from Hanna's perspective as she tries to discern good from evil, and process new experiences such as watching TV or getting her first kiss.

CLIP Kissing requires a total of 34 facial muscles... (then throws the guy)

Only problem -- Hanna is a trained assassin.

JOE WRIGHT: Saoirse and I first developed the character from her physicality... So we started by looking at how she would move and decided that she should be very centered and very balanced and be very physically aware and very still and only really move when she knew she had to move she's very economical in her movements.

But lethal as well. That's why a government agent is after both Hanna and her father.

CLIP I need you to do things my agency won't let me do.

Wright, who has done two literary adaptations prior to "Hanna," was interested in making an action film.

JOE WRIGHT: And how to shoot action and how to do it in an original way. I kind of consider action to be almost pure cinema... I wanted to treat the action stuff like dance rather than pure violence. It's a fantasy and the action should have that feeling too.

And it does in delicious scenes like the one set in an old amusement park. But despite professing a desire to avoid Jason Bourne-likeshakycam and fast cutting, Wright's early action sequences rely precisely on that approach.

CLIP fight

Initially Wright dismissed my complaint as a generational thing -- someone my age simply wouldn't get that fast action pace. But then he made a confession.

JOE WRIGHT: To be honest some of those sequences were near the beginning of the shoot and I was a lot less confident of shooting action at that time and so I probably didn't have the confidence to let certain sequences play out and was sort of trying to learn how to shoot action on the job really.

And he does. Later scenes work much better because he lets the action play out with fewer cuts and wider angles so we can appreciate Hanna's skill as well as some of the marvelous set design. These scenes are further enhanced by superior sound work and a score by the Chemical Brothers.

JOE WRIGHT: And I was interested in the idea of kind of marrying the SFX with the music. When you're working with a classical score there's a definite division between music and sound effects but with the Chemicals because some of their sounds are quite abstract really and all synthesized one could really create an aural world.

And one that helps create the unique world of "Hanna." In the end, Wright delivers an electric mash up of genres and styles, a kind of action fairy tale in which the princess is a highly trained killer, the wicked stepmother is a ruthless government agent, and there is no handsome prince or happy ending. "Hanna" doesn't deliver a typical Hollywood action film but rather something more akin to a European thriller like "Diva" or "Run Lola Run," films that are more expressionistic and stylized.