Joe Wright Dishes on the Chemical Composition of ‘Hanna’

Joe Wright on the set of Hanna
Photo: Focus Features

Joe Wright might not be one of the best-known filmmakers in the world but he probably should be. He’s already been nominated for several awards for his first two features, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, and his third film, The Soloist, was well reviewed even if it stumbled at the box-office.

Wright’s new film, Hanna, is a distinct departure for the London born director and one of the most interesting flicks I’ve seen so far this year. Part thriller and part character study, the film could have easily become schizophrenic in less assured hands. That’s why when Wright compared filmmaking to composing music my ears perked up.

“Without trying to sound too pretentious, Andrei Tarkovsky describes film as sculpting in time and I think that’s a very good description of it.” Wright explained. “One doesn’t have a picture idea, one has a cinematic idea. It’s about the moment, rather than just the picture. And the moment is in time, like music is in time.”

“And when it works everything comes together.” He added.

I nodded knowingly.

“I think that’s what a successful film does.” Wright continued, “And it’s created in the head with the viewer.”

Speaking of music. I had to ask about the soundtrack. In the last year there have been some tremendous soundtracks produced by non-traditional composers like Trent Reznor, Jonny Greenwood and Daft Punk. We can now add The Chemical Brothers to the list. The Hanna score is terrific and a wonderful follow up to their stunning 2010 release “Further.”

Alongside Adam Smith (“Skins”), Wright was part of a group called Vegetable Vision in the early 1990s creating visuals for acts that included the Chemical Brothers. He even credits his time on the rave scene as an influence to his Pride and Prejudice, telling UK’s The Guardian in 2008, “I know I managed to get that rave feeling into Pride and Prejudice, just little suggestions of it in all the pastoral beauty. I love dawn shots, or shots after the rain has stopped, because I always loved staying up all night till dawn, when it all got still and calm.”

So when did Wright decide to ask the Chemicals to do the soundtrack for Hanna? “Pretty much as soon as I read the script,” he said. “It had been an idea of mine to have them compose a score for some years. It was just Which film?

Without giving away any spoilers, it is hard to imagine a better match for the Chemical Brothers aural soundscapes than this film about a teenager who is raised as an assassin and heads out in the world for the first time. The story of a young woman who is hunted throughout the film and has to fight for her life.

Much like Trent Reznor’s marvelous compositions for The Social Network and Daft Punk’s underrated TRON: Legacy score, the Chemicals have produced a soundtrack that is every bit the equal of the best composers in Hollywood today. And, like Reznor, you can bet this won’t be the Chemicals last score, either.

“I’d been a fan since the first time I saw them with 200 people at Ra-Ra’s Shoe Shop in London.” Wright said. “And I had wanted to work with them on something for a long time.

“Their music is challenging and thought provoking. One thing people might miss about them is that they’re very bright men. And their music connects with people whether they’re playing in front of 80 people or 80,000.”

Another collaborator Wright praised was his lead actress, Saoirse Ronan. This isn’t the first time the two have worked together on a film. Ronan was nominated for both a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award as Best Supporting Actress for her work on Wright’s second feature Atonement.

“Saoirse has an extraordinary talent for belief. And an incredible imagination,” Wright said.

For her part, Ronan seemed genuinely humbled by Wright’s praise saying, “I feel very lucky and amazed that Joe has such a strong belief in me.”

It’s a belief that pays off. Ronan gives a breathtaking performance as a teenager who has been raised in the wild that encounters the world for the very first time. Ronan holds the screen throughout the film, even when she’s matched with her veteran co-stars Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana.

Asked what her most difficult scene was during filming, Ronan mentioned a day in Finland when the temperature was 30 below. She had to run across a frozen lake and her lungs ached from the cold as she ran away from the camera. When Wright asked if they could do one more take, Ronan wasn’t sure she could but agreed to try anyway.

“I couldn’t give up, because Hanna wouldn’t give up,” she explained.

“She’s preternaturally talented,” Wright went on to say. “I think that’s why she identified with the character of Hanna. Because they’re kind of otherworldly, really. In a sense. But in another sense, Saoirse is the most normal teenager you’ll ever like to meet. Kind of a strange dichotomy.”

So what would Wright like audiences to know about the film?

“It’s a really good film and they should go and see it.” He said with a laugh. “I’m a storyteller not a salesman. I think the film is challenging and thought provoking. I think people will enjoy it.”

I think so, too.

Hanna hits theaters this Friday, April 8. For more on the film including our gallery of stills, trailer and clips click here.