Home > Reviews > HANNA – The Chemical Brothers

HANNA – The Chemical Brothers

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s not often I find myself completely unable to finish listening to a film score due to me hating it so much, but that’s what happened with Hanna – twice. A contemporary thriller directed by Joe Wright (who previously directed the Oscar-winning Atonement), Hanna stars Saoirse Ronan as the eponymous character, a 16-year old assassin who has been trained by her father (Eric Bana) to be a perfect, and totally unlikely, slaughter machine. When Hanna is dispatched to a remote part of Europe on a mission, the baby-faced killer finds herself having to fight for her own life when she is targeted for elimination by government operatives with a covert agenda of their own. The film also stars Cate Blanchett, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng, and has garnered generally positive reviews, not least for Ronan’s star performance.

Before I launch into my appraisal of the score, let me make a few things absolutely clear. First, I am not a reviewer who only likes orchestral scores. All-electronic scores, when done with panache and expertise and creativity, entertain me as much as orchestral scores do, especially when the uniqueness of the electronic sound palette gives the film an extra edge. Secondly, I am not a reviewer who looks down on artists from the rock and pop world writing film scores. I own, and have enjoyed, scores by the likes of Daft Punk, Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Charlie Clouser from Nine Inch Nails, and several others, most of whom are much more well known for music other than film music. I have always said that I would love to hear what bands like Within Temptation, Evanescence or Rammstein would do if offered a film score. I’m all for giving everyone a chance.

Having said that, I found this score by The Chemical Brothers to be utterly intolerable. The Chemicals Brothers – Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons – were groundbreaking pioneers when they first emerged into the Manchester big beat electronic dance movement in England in the 1990s, and so I absolutely acknowledge their fine musical pedigree in their chosen genre. Unfortunately, film music, with all its subtleties and nuances, seems to be completely beyond them. Hanna is a complete and utter mess, an incessant and dramatically incomprehensible set of dance music tunes that do nothing to illustrate the film’s dramatic arc, offer no commentary on the story, or even provide much substance as a standalone listening experience.

The best cues of the entire score are the first and last ones, beginning with “Hanna’s Theme”, in which layered vocals sing a sweet, almost lullaby-ish motif over a minimalist, almost Philip Glass-style electronic pulse. It sets up Hanna’s child-like nature and sweet demeanor, as well as her naïveté, despite her ruthlessness as an assassin, and has a good recapitulation in a breathy, almost orgasmic vocal version at the very end of the score. The second cue, “Escape 700”, isn’t too bad either – a more upbeat, driving electronic rhythm with wavering chords over the top and a throwback 1980s sound that has a cool nostalgic appeal. So far so good, you think. But then it all goes downhill.

Cues like “Chalice 1”, “Map Sounds/Chalice 2” and “Isolated Howl” are little more than space invader-style sound effects tracks. “The Devil is in the Details” is simply bizarre, a calliope-inspired ditty which sounds like it should be accompanying a pre-school children’s TV show like the Teletubbies. “The Forest” sounds like a minute or so of mutated, distorted whale song heard through a closed door. “The Sandman” sounds like a music box ballerina whose batteries are running low. The first minute of “Bahnhof Rumble’ – which ostensibly is an action cue – sounds like raindrops combined with the sampled sound of a microwave hum, before eventually picking up a set of cymbals and a more strident beat towards the end of the cue. And so on and so forth…

“The Devil is in the Beats” revisits the Teletubbie theme from earlier in the score, and overlays it with a harder and more pulsating beat, sampled vocals, and a sound which can only be described as someone doing unspeakable things to a Theremin. This theme appears again, in a very mutated form, towards the end of “Grimm’s House”. A couple of cues at the end – “Hanna vs. Marissa” and the nightclub-friendly “Escape Wavefold” – do raise the tempo somewhat with accelerated rhythmic elements and a more energetic attitude, but it’s all too little to late, and even these pieces seem astonishingly simplistic in their construction, and of course they never miss an opportunity to layer in a grinding noise or an industrial sample akin to fingernails down a blackboard. The “Special Ops” cue, as well as the conclusive “Container Park”, are especially nightmarish in this regard.

It was all I could do to muster the intestinal fortitude to listen to this soundtrack enough times to be able to form an opinion of the entire score. I don’t enjoy writing reviews like this. I want each new score to be great, and to impress me. But Hanna was so jaw-droppingly awful and inappropriate, showed such little understanding of the narrative requirements of film music, and contained so many bizarre and wildly out of place samples that I had a burning desire to say something about it. I dare say that fans of the band, as well as admirers of hard electronica, will love it; I have read numerous reviews online about how bold and daring and original and fresh and uncompromising it is, each written by mainstream critics who look down on traditional film music like it was beneath them. To those people, I say this: I’m happy that you like it. Knock yourself out. But I won’t be listening to this score ever again, and it’s only because the opening “Hanna’s Theme” is OK that it gets a single, solitary star.

Rating: *

Buy the Hanna soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Hanna’s Theme (2:08)
  • Escape 700 (5:16)
  • Chalice 1 (0:47)
  • The Devil is in the Details (3:22)
  • Map Sounds/Chalice 2 (0:15)
  • The Forest (1:07)
  • Quayside Synthesis (1:21)
  • The Sandman (1:45)
  • Marissa Flashback (2:44)
  • Bahnhof Rumble (2:37)
  • The Devil is in the Beats (2:35)
  • Car Chase (Arp Worship) (4:58)
  • Interrogation/Lonesome Subway/Grimm’s House (4:25)
  • Hanna vs. Marissa (1:46)
  • Sun Collapse (0:11)
  • Special Ops (1:28)
  • Escape Wavefold (3:21)
  • Isolated Howl (0:42)
  • Container Park (3:45)
  • Hanna’s Theme (Vocal Version) (5:28)

Running Time: 50 minutes 09 seconds

Backlot Music (2011)

Music composed by Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons. Performed by The Chemical Brothers. Edited by Michael Higham. Album produced by The Chemical Brothers.

  1. April 30, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    I was baffled by people who recommended this to those who liked Tron Legacy and The Social Network. Whatever problems those two scores may have, they are both infinitely more musical and more score-like than this mess.

  2. April 30, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    I agree. Honestly, I didn’t think Tron Legacy *has* any problems – it was a great score. Which proves my point about how hardcore electronica acts like Dadt Punk CAN successfully cross over to film music if they know what they are doing.

  3. Adam Jay
    May 17, 2011 at 12:49 am

    Although this may not work so well as an album in its own right, the music is simply amazing in the film. I hadn’t heard the soundtrack before seeing the film and it all makes sense, often reflecting the discordant, ugly aggression of our world compared to the pure natural world Hanna was brought up in. It’s a great film made by the soundtrack.

  4. Pedro Pacheco
    December 19, 2011 at 8:26 am

    I would like to know the opinion of Joe Wirght. I simply can´t understand how someone can use the music of Marianelli in Atonement and now,,,,,”this”. It was really difficult for me to arrive at the end of the first(and unique) listening of the disc and of corse I needed a box of aspirins after that.

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