As in last week’s brilliant Source Code, you’ll spend much of Hanna, the latest from director Joe Wright (Atonement), wondering what the heck is going on and who the heck these people are. And while you will finally come to figure most of it out by the time the credits roll, the real brilliance of the movie is not so much where you end up but how you get there.

Hanna is as mesmerizing and brilliant as anything to come down the pike this year. It’s a superbly-filmed, twisted fairy tale/joyride anchored by amazing performances, expert direction, and a screenplay that’s as original as anything in recent memory.

Saoirse Ronan is the titular teenage assassin, trained by her father Erik Heller (Eric Bana), who has been hiding out with her in the frigid Finnish wilderness since she was a baby. They have no contact with the outside world, no electricity, and at one point she wonders aloud what music might sound like.

Over the previous decade he has home-schooled her with an encyclopedic education in languages and cultures, and he has also taught her martial arts and marksmanship to turn her into a finely-tuned killing machine. It’s all so one day she’d be skilled enough to (alone) confront Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett), a CIA agent who’s been looking for them for almost two decades; Erik, we learn, is a ‘rogue asset’.

Hanna and her father then split up, and they both venture out into the real world with plans to meet up again soon in Berlin. From there, Hanna becomes an exquisite cat-and-mouse game as Marissa orchestrates a global manhunt for the pair.

Wright has crafted a head-spinning thrill ride with surprises at every turn. The cinematography is alone worth the price of admission, as the entire movie uses unconventional camera angles and a unique visual feel to frenetically build the ultra-violent tension at some points while also slowing down to allow real emotions to pour through at others.

The sparse screenplay by first-timers Seth Lochhead and David Farr benefits immensely from the inclusion of almost innocuous scenes that would have been cut from most conventional films. Here, though, those scenes only add to the aura and mystique of the film. There are even a few light moments and several tender, quiet bits to break up the angst when its needed.

Ronan is the perfect actress for the role—bringing a spot-on combination of wild-eyed wonder and a fierce, almost robotic coldness. Bana and Blanchett are excellent, and special marks also go to relative newcomer Jessica Barden (Tamara Drewe) as a teenaged British girl Hanna befriends during her travels.

Hanna is flat-out fierce and captivating—a welcome bit of intelligent filmmaking to relish before the start of the summer movie season.

5/5 stars