Ric Morgan in For Hannah (Photos: Two 9 Productions)

★★★ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY John Wesley Norton
STARS Shannon Brown, Carla Abruzzo

For Hannah is a Christmas movie in the same sense that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, in that it’s a story that happens to be set during the Yuletide season. In other words, it’s not a Christmas movie.

It is, however, a solid thriller that’s effectively written and directed by John Wesley Norton, who’s also listed in the credits as cinematographer and, along with six of the performers, producer. Set in the small town of Pine Ridge on Christmas Eve in 1987 (incidentally, seven months before the release of Die Hard, but I digress), it follows a bank robber named Chance (Shannon Brown, who also shares writing duties with Norton) as he evades the law by invading a couple’s home. That couple would be Frank (Ric Morgan) and Emma (Carla Abruzzo), and it’s not long before all sympathy — Chance’s and the audience’s — falls on Emma. That’s because she’s more a maid than a wife, as Frank bullies and berates her and makes her perform every task for him, no matter how small (e.g. she has to pour the dinner wine for him and be quick with the refills). Frank also works for local mobsters, so there’s that, too.

After Emma gets over her initial fright of being held hostage by a criminal on the run, she comes to know Chance. It isn’t a Stockholm syndrome situation, as Chance is ultimately a decent guy who robbed the bank for just about the best reason imaginable. But Chance knows he has little, uh, chance of escaping the area without being tackled by the cops, so he reluctantly listens as the shifty Frank explains how he can help him in exchange for some of that stolen loot (they haggle over the split, an amusing scene). Meanwhile, the question looms large: Is Emma truly on Chance’s side, or is she a femme fatale in hiding?

Carla Abruzzo and Shannon Brown in For Hannah

If this movie had a spirit animal, it would be the Coens’ Fargo, as it’s similarly set in a cold and desolate area, populated with quirky characters, and mixing humorous moments with violent interludes. Unfortunately, the humor only works when it’s of the more subtle variety, like those exchanges between Chance and Frank, or throwaway lines like Frank muttering, “Your [police] force couldn’t find grass on a golf course.” The broad bits, like a scatterbrained TV news reporter who can’t remember big words during her broadcast or a waitress who goes off on tangents while being interrogated, fall flat and should have been excised.

Also in need of some trimming are the sequences involving the grizzled sheriff (Bruce Spielbauer) set to retire in approximately a week and the ambitious and efficient deputy (Suzette Brown) who believes she should be the one to replace him. Later developments in the story mandate that they should appear throughout the picture, but some of their scenes wear out their welcome.

For the most part, For Hannah works well, with decent performances (Shannon Brown is particularly good), memorable characters (look out for that hired assassin!), and a denouement that’s initially shocking before gliding into something more graceful. It’s a movie that can be watched any time of the year — even at Christmas, I suppose.

(For Hannah is available on Amazon Prime Video, Plex, and other streaming platforms.)

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