Cate Blanchett is a terrific actress--I've enjoyed much of the Australian star's screen work ever since Elizabeth, the story of Fred Sanford's dead wife--but her attempt at a Southern accent in the 2011 teen assassin thriller Hanna is horrendous. British or Australian actors who mangle American accents have been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. The onslaught of these actors starring as American icons (Martin Luther King) or superheroes (the current Superman is a Brit, and so were the last cinematic Batman and the last pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe-era Spider-Man) is kind of worrisome because most of them really cannot do an American accent. The sight of many American roles in film and TV getting outsourced to white actors from other countries particularly bugs me because there are tons of Asian American or African American actors who are far better qualified at sounding American than those British or Aussie performers, and they're not getting those parts.
There's always one single word during a British or Aussie actor's performance as an American character that trips them up or brings their whole façade crashing down. Most often, that word is "anything." They tend to pronounce it as "en-nuh-thin"--Scottish star Karen Gillan's otherwise flawless American accent would slip during Selfie whenever she said "ennathin'"--instead of the American way: "en-nee-thing." During John Boyega's performance as a falsely accused American drone pilot on last summer's 24: Live Another Day, that word was "missile." Boyega pronounced it the U.K. way: "mis-eyel," as in making it rhyme with "aisle." The believability of Aussie actor Guy Pearce's performance as an ambitious '50s LAPD detective in L.A. Confidential was ruined at the very end of the film by Pearce's pronunciation of "Angeles" as "an-juh-lees"--a non-American way of saying it--instead of "an-juh-lehs." In Hanna, the word that trips up Blanchett is the movie's goddamn title! Her evil, 1998 Gillian Anderson-haired CIA agent character refers to the titular heroine she's chasing as "Hahn-uh." Yeah, that's not exactly the Southern way to pronounce it.
It's not like Blanchett can't do a Southern accent at all. She actually mastered it once before as a Georgia fortune teller with genuine psychic powers in the 2000 Sam Raimi thriller The Gift (dig the musicality Blanchett brings to the line where her psychic character, who's being threatened by a customer's scummy redneck husband, explains to her son why she's grabbed a baseball bat: "Don't worry, honey, I'm just working on my swing"). Blanchett shouldn't really be blamed for an accent that's so all over the map Google Maps would throw up its hands in frustration and mutter, "I fucking give up. You're on your own." The blame should fall on the dialect coach Hanna director Joe Wright hired for Blanchett. It's clearly not the same dialect coach who helped Blanchett speak during the filming of The Gift. The Hanna dialect coach should be kidnapped, locked in that punishment cabin from the summer camp in Addams Family Values and forced to watch Hillbilly Handfishin' on a loop. (And then the casting director who told Wright that it would be a good idea to hire the whitest actress to star as Tiger Lily in this summer's Pan should be dropped off in an Indian reservation and forced to live there without money and a smartphone for a month.)
Did they really need to make Agent Marissa Wiegler an American, along with all the other CIA agents in Hanna who are unconvincingly portrayed by British actors? It's not like everyone in that agency's personnel is American. There are foreigners who work there. Take, for example, the funniest CIA agent of them all: Avery Bullock, the deranged agency boss Patrick Stewart voices on American Dad. He's a Brit. I would have rather had seen Wright and screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr shoehorn into Hanna some little backstory that Wiegler isn't American--like how Schwarzenegger flicks used to always squeeze in some dialogue about the hero's Austrian roots to explain what an American supercop is doing walking around with a thick Austrian accent--instead of the unintentionally funny attempt to pass Wiegler off as a Southerner. And that's not the only over-the-top and theatrical-sounding accent in Hanna. In fact, everyone in the film--who's not a member of the family of ordinary British tourists Hanna befriends while she's on the lam, that is--has a bizarre accent. There's the campy fake German accent Tom Hollander uses while he steals parts of the film as Wiegler's sadistic German associate Isaacs. But that accent somehow works. Meanwhile, Blanchett's campy fake Southern accent does not.
Her lousy accent fails to bring down a solid first action movie from a director who was previously known for period costume dramas like Atonement and Anna Karenina, just like how Wiegler fails to bring down this tough little German girl she wants to eliminate. Hanna is Saoirse Ronan's movie all the way, a remarkable coming-out party for the Atonement star's action side. Since Hanna, Ronan's starred in another art-house teen assassin flick, Violet & Daisy, and the Stephenie Meyer YA sci-fi adaptation The Host. Like in The Host, Ronan did all her own stunts as Hanna. She received martial arts training from legendary Bruce Lee protégé Dan Inosanto, and her verisimilitude as an action heroine--not once can you detect shitty CGI that pastes Ronan's eyebrowless face over some 42-year-old double's body--lends the film a certain edge and raggedy energy, whether she's leaping over shipping containers in an epic chase scene or simply snapping the pretty neck of Downton Abbey star Michelle Dockery, who briefly appears as one of Hanna's first human kills.
It's not just a strong physical performance. It's a really good dramatic one too. Ronan skillfully balances Hanna's fierce killing machine side with her vulnerable, innocent and curious child side. Wright frequently said he envisioned Hanna as a modern-day Grimm fairy tale--this one has an espionage backdrop and a dental hygiene-obsessed CIA scumbag as the evil witch--but I always interpreted Hanna as less of a fairy tale and more like an alien-on-Earth story a la The Iron Giant. Just replace the sentient robot soldier who discovers the wonders of Earth and decides that he doesn't want to be a gun with a home-schooled, feral and genetically engineered German teen who gets a taste of the world outside her wilderness classroom and realizes she wants no part of the kind of life her ex-CIA associate dad (Eric Bana, also working with a campy German accent) trained her for.
And how about that futuristic original score by the Chemical Brothers? It's like a fifth character in the movie, but it's definitely my favorite character, even more so than Hanna herself. The Hanna score, which can be heard during both "AFOS Prime" and the new AFOS espionage score music block "AFOS Incognito," is a remarkable aural achievement from a duo that never scored a film before. The tongue-in-cheek and creepy melody they wrote for Isaacs to whistle repeatedly--it's known on the score album as "The Devil Is in the Details"--is an all-time great villain theme.
Part of why the Chemical Brothers' propulsive score will stand the test of time is because the Chemical Brothers were simply allowed to be the Chemical Brothers, and they didn't acquiesce to the ubiquitous Inception foghorn from old Love Boat episodes--which was popular then and is still all over action film score music--or any other Hans Zimmer-esque flourish like the ones that are evidence of John Powell's roots as a member of Zimmer's Media Ventures collective during Powell's scores for the Bourne movies. Sure, the equally beloved Daft Punk/Joseph Trapanese score from 2010's Tron: Legacy contains some "BRAHM!," but it works for that video game-inspired gladiator movie. It wouldn't have worked for either Hanna or what the Chemical Brothers were aiming for, and that was to sound as alien as Hanna herself. "BRAHM!" would have stuck out like a really bad Southern accent.