Adapt or die.
Premise: A 16-year-old who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is dispatched on a mission across Europe, tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.
Release Date: 2011
Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Seth Lochhead (story and screenplay) and David Farr (screenplay)
**SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT**
I picked Hanna as my first script to read for this year because I absolutely adored the movie. It’s in my genre, too: a gritty spy thriller to the core. Surprisingly, the early 2005 version of the script apparently reads nothing like the movie, with none of the magic of the finished film. I couldn’t find that draft, so I had to settle for a 2010 version despite the fact I really wanted to see how the script evolved into the piece of art it turned out to be.
The story starts out with Hanna, creeping stealthily through the icy Finland wilderness. She shoots a deer with a bow and arrow, chasing it through the forest as the trees fly by. The deer collapses and she utters the line: “I just missed your heart.” Keep that line in mind.
A man comes up behind her, and attacks — but it’s her father, Erik. He’s training her in combat, languages, lies — but for what purpose? Hanna’s a fighter, but a softer side is shown when Erik reads her a passage about music back in their small cabin. “What does music sound like?” she asks, but he only reads her the description of what it is. What they have in the wilderness is not enough for her curious mind.
The first ten pages read surprisingly dry without the dream sequence. That’s what ratchets up the mystery, that’s what leaves the viewer anticipating what’s next. The montage scene of Hanna and Erik preparing was also done much more fluidly in the movie. There’s another scene in which Hanna almost drowns, and then criticizes Erik from saving her that was omitted from the actual movie, which was a wise choice because it did little to advance the plot or establish the character of Hanna.
The characterization and foreshadowing developed in the first fifteen pages are impeccable. And the box? What could be a more perfect physical manifestation of an inciting incident?
Hanna insists that she’s ready, so Erik reluctantly digs up a button with a box. Once the button is pressed, Marissa Wiegler will know where they are, and will try and kill Hanna. Hanna presses the button and her and Erik make contingency plans for when they’re going to meet up. Erik disappears, leaving Hanna at the cabin. Meanwhile, in Langley, Marissa Wiegler sees the signal and convinces her bosses to let her rally the troops and catch Erik, citing that this is an issue that the public should never see.
A Special Ops team storms the house, finding Hanna and bringing her back to an underground CIA substation where they ask her questions. She asks for Marissa Wiegler, and they send in a fake. Hanna kills the fake Wiegler, and escapes the complex in an incredibly exciting and well-executed escape scene, where she ends up making her way to the surface and hanging on to the bottom of a car to put distance between her and her captors.
Throughout the entire movie, there’s a contrast painted in Hanna’s character. She’s not a cold blooded killer — she’s acting in proactive self defense, and at the end of the movie, she’s done with killing.
And then, at the end, the infamous line returns: “I just missed your heart.”
When the story comes perfectly full circle like this one did, that shows a kind of storytelling mastery that takes years to achieve.
What I learned from the screenplay:
- Choppy sentences are a must for action scenes. Sparse, powerful words are imperative.
- The scenes in Hanna are abrupt. They are brief and to the point — the script is very lean and efficient. However, it wasn’t just written like this. The plot was restructured and at least twenty scenes were omitted in the draft that I read.
- Make your characters suffer — or have humanizing moments — in order to win sympathy from the audience. Hanna could have been a cold, emotionless killer if she hadn’t been written correctly, but the way the story is structured helps highlight her innocence and suffering. The scene where she asks her father what music sounds like — that’s genius. It humanizes her. And, in the script, there are multiple instances during her escape and her time in the desert where we see her struggle to survive and we want to root for her. Not to mention Marissa Wiegler is a fantastic villain.
- Concise descriptors are key. My favorite descriptor? “In front of it, a tiny house – WILHELM GRIMM’S HOUSE – a fairytale theme ‘Fun House’ in the process of being digested by nature.”
- Allusions can really elevate a script. Hanna had a lot of allusions to fairytales — but the script added a dark twist on it. I think that was David Farr’s doing. One of my favorites is when Marissa Wiegler is coming to find her upstairs in a small room described as “HANNA enters a room that’s been designed to look like Grandma’s bedroom from Little Red Riding Hood.” When Hanna is doing her web search, Issacs mentions that tracking her down is as easy as simply “finding bread crumbs” — an ironic reference to Hansel and Gretel.
- Cut, Cut, and Cut Some More. The script I read had numbered scenes, which means it was a production draft. I was surprised about how much of the script was altered during production. There is so much dead weight that should have been cut long before that! So when in doubt, CUT YOUR SCENES THAT DON’T ADD TO THE PLOT! The movie runs much smoother that way. There was this weird scene in the script right after Erik gets killed where Hanna and Marissa (who just killed Erik and wants to kill Hanna) go grab sandwiches. I’m glad they cut it. It was pointless and strange.
- Make it come full circle. In the beginning and the end of the film, Hanna states: “I just missed you heart.” Once, to the deer, and once to Marissa Wieglar. Absolutely superb.