Hanna (2009): Joe Wright’s Thriller, Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana

Joe Wright’s thriller “Hanna” has a circular structure, opening and closing with the same line “I just missed your heart,” followed by white-lined letters outlined against a harsh red backdrop.

The speaker and title are identical, a chilly, opaque sixteen-year incarnated with a lean and frightening intensity by the superb young New York-born, Irish-raised actress Saoirse Ronan.

The lithe, beguiling actress made her reputation as the younger Briony in Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s “Atonement,” and then suffered from the bad reviews of Peter Jackson’s ”Lovely Bones,” in which she was the protagonist (the film’s failure was not her fault).

Ronan is wholly different beast in Wright’s new film, playing a dark avenging angel or a “wild child.” In the story, developed by the writers Seth Lockhead and David Farr, Ronan’s eponymous teenager is a specially engineered killer who becomes a pawn in the elaborate spy games carried out between her warring “parents,” her specially CIA-trained father (Eric Bana) and the mission handler, Marissa (Cate Blanchett).

The movie’s both spectacularly suggestive and abrasively off-putting, sharply mounted and staged though undone by sadomasochistic threads and nasty asides. The movie’s not so much directed as art designed to a fault; it’s impressive though dour and mannered that allows for little spontaneity or pleasure in either watching it or considering the implications of the story.

Wright and his excellent cinematographer Alwin Kuchler conjure some rigorous and sometimes spellbinding formal contrasts in the wildly different locations and settings. The movie’s opening is set almost exclusively in the snow-capped, blindingly white Finnish landscapes that sequester Hanna and her father Erik in their specially constructed forest redoubt. During the day, Hanna hunts, with the most rudimentary weaponry, reindeer that she stalks and executes with a stark cunning.

The girl, freckled, white mop of hair, has been specially bred and programmed since birth as a elite warrior and assassin and endowed with heightened intellectual and physical daring, and capable of speaking multiple languages. Believing her training complete, Erik effectively orchestrates a rendezvous between Hanna and Marissa, the high-powered government operative.

The movie is strongest in the opening third, when the exact nature of the different characters’ motivations and behavior is deliberately obfuscated, like a flashback that stages a violent encounter between Erik and Marissa and Hanna’s mother. Wright also smartly withholds the lead character’s almost supernatural powers. Gradually teasing out the full capabilities of her talent, as she is held in an underground CIA rendition facility in the Morocco desert, Wright unleashes her startling abilities in the first of several set pieces.

In the movie’s first stab at humor-driven brand of storytelling, the young girl, now a nomad, ingratiates herself with a vacationing English family. The parents, especially Olivia Williams, are very unevenly drawn, but the terrific young actress Jessica Barden (the best part of Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe”) brings a totally different energy and wry sensibility as Sophie.

Dramatically, the point is pretty obvious, a striking counterpoint to Hanna’s icy “perfection,” a restless, smart, insouciant and hormonally driven teenage girl. The private exchanges between the two feel tender and real, given the circumstances. Her coiled sense of humor is much needed, like her response after Hanna grips one of the Spanish boys they’ve picked up in a nasty headlock and wonders aloud whether she should let him go. “As opposed to what?” Sophie demands.

“Hanna” is an unfortunate example of a movie tyrannized by plot. As the movie becomes a series of interlocking chess pieces about chase and pursuit, the story of Erik returning to Berlin for his rendezvous with his daughter, Marissa turns to illegal means to recapture her prized possession. From the moment of the introduction of Isaacs (Tom Hollander), “Hanna” goes dangerously wrongheaded. An epicene Sydney Greenstreet type, sexually slithery, he naturally employs all manner of foul deeds, sadism and torture, to achieve his ends. (The fact he uses a couple of neo-Nazi sidekicks only intensifies the extreme alienation of the characters and situations.)

The fact that nobody quite speaks in a natural voice or accent turns everything more stylized and hollow. The two Australians, Bana and Blanchett, seem smothered by the perverse accents required of them, especially Blanchett’s American Southern twang that floats in and out of register, depending on her level of coldness or coercion. Her character is the kind of emotionally damaged Cold Warrior realist no longer able to adjust to the more fragmented and decentralized realpolitik of the present. It is arguably her least convincing performance.

Wright proved with the spectacular Dunkirk sequence in “Atonement” he is capable action stylist. “Hanna” has some very impressive physical moments, especially a single-take sequence that draws on surveillance imagery of Erik under siege and sleekly moves into a ferocious hand-to-hand combat in the shadowy depths of a Berlin subway station.

Wright summons some sharp and convincing compositional elements, of ice, fire and water. He also, somewhat disconcertingly, uses the English experimental rock band the Chemical Brothers to compose an atonal and very unorthodox music score, something in the vein of what Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross achieved with David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” In this case, the work just feels punishing, the sound repetitive and droning rather than the sonic and revealing chords of the Fincher film.

But the deeper violation, the lost childhood, the surreal set pieces governing a bleak fairy tale, swims about “Hanna,” both the film and character. Ronan is an emphatic and privileged young woman who’s often better than the surrounding material (as evidenced by Peter Jackson’s overwrought “The Lovely Bones”). She is often mesmerizing in the film, especially how she stealthily she moves between empathy and cold antipathy.

As the exact nature of her provenance becomes clearer, the movie never quite settles down to explore the twisted and haunting fragments of that consciousness. Rather Wright simply contrives fancier and more elaborate forms of her escape, punctuated by a lot of running about, jumping and leaping. When the showdown finally comes, the resolution is perhaps satisfying, but the larger movie is lost and never recovered.