'Hanna': TV Review | Berlin 2019

Solid-yet-unremarkable genre fare.
3/20/2019

Joe Wright's arty teen assassin fairy tale gets retold in TV form for Amazon without nearly the stylistic richness or subtext, but with a very fine Esme Creed-Miles' lead turn.

For good reason, the 2011 thriller Hanna was viewed through an auteurist prism. Atonement and Anna Karenina director Joe Wright brought a dreamy weight to the story, using his precise sense of framing and color plus a general disinterest in conventional action movie pacing to turn Hanna into an art house fairy tale with ass-kicking interludes. Without Wright's touches, Hanna probably would have just been the love child of Jason Bourne and Harriet the Spy.

The "just" in the previous sentence is put to the test with Amazon's new streaming take on Hanna, which hails from original co-writer David Farr and includes Wright in the credits only as a "consultant," whatever that means. Through early episodes, Hanna plays like the film stripped of much of its subtext and the most distinctive elements of its style, which leaves a reasonably fun, handsome series that still feels like a big step backward.

For a service with a binging strategy, Amazon is unveiling Hanna in dribs and drabs. The first episode got a 24-hour preview the day after the Super Bowl. The first two episodes are premiering at the Berlin Film Festival this week. Critics have, as of this moment, been given access to three episodes, but only two are reviewable, so…let's go!

The series begins in Romania with Erik (Joel Kinnaman) and Joanna (Joanna Kulig) fleeing, with their baby, from a veritable army led by stern-and-merciless Marissa Wiegler (Mireille Enos). Tragedy ensues, but Erik and the baby escape into the Eastern European woods. Years later, the baby has grown into a teen (Esme Creed-Miles), trained in utter isolation — she doesn't know what a Snickers is! — by her father in a variety of fighting and survivalist techniques. Hanna doesn't know what menstruation is, but she speaks fluent German, French and English. She's a lethal machine whose skills are being honed and refined with one goal in mind: getting revenge on Marissa Wiegler. 

If this sounds familiar, because you watched the movie version of Hanna, you're also going to recognize most of the second episode, which introduces a British family on caravan vacation in Morocco, including a very likable Rhianne Barreto as Sophie, a teenage girl raised in a much more conventional manner, who befriends Hanna. I kept waiting for something to be expanded or to zig where I expected a zag, but that's not what the initial game is.

It's really only in the third episode that Hanna begins to stake its own ground, but probably since that ground is oddly conventional, I can't review that episode, so as far as I can review it, Hanna is the movie told as an elongated TV narrative of 48-minute episodes that, oddly, doesn't give all that much more character expansion. The folkloric nature of the movie allowed all of the characters to be archetypes and excused any broad strokes of performance. The TV series has done little to suggest that expositionalizing them makes them better characters. In a fairy tale, you let certain potholes and questionable leaps of logic go. The longer you stay in situations, the more you can't help but impose questions that probably shouldn't be answered too literally.

At least Hanna has been cast very well.

Creed-Miles, 19-year-old daughter of actress Samantha Morton, has big shoes to fill, since Saoirse Ronan was, after Wright, the key element of the movie. As Hanna, Creed-Miles conveys a perfect mixture of feral danger and fundamental innocence that she can play for either humor or emotional. She's good with the physicality of the role, even if the directing and editing aren't always geared toward showing how much of the action she's doing herself.

The reunion of The Killing stars Kinnaman and Enos, though they rarely share scenes together, is sturdy as well. Enos' chilly but wicked take on Wiegler is more naturalistic than the heightened wicked stepmother/big-bad-wolf performance Wright got out of Cate Blanchett, but it's satisfying on its own terms. Kinnaman brings his normal harried urgency to a character who thus far becomes increasingly rote the more we know about him.

As a side note, anybody who has seen Cold War is going to be frustrated by how wasted Kulig is and in slower moments of Hanna, I imagined a version of the show in which the remarkable Kulig was more central. Could she have played Wiegler? Sure! Once the original father-daughter subtext has already been drained, could she have played Hanna's central parental figure/trainer? Sure. More Joanna Kulig, please.

Shooting in Spain, Slovakia and Hungary, among other Euro hubs, Hanna has a reasonable amount of location flavor and marks an assertive directing leap from Sarah Adina Smith who, in short order, has gone from shorts and indies to half-hours like Room 104 and Wrecked to somebody capable of kicking off a big-budget prestige streaming drama. The wilderness introduction is often stark and lovely, captured well by cinematographer Dana Gonzalez, and the action is brutal and swift, not packaged in extended set pieces. I miss the way the Chemical Brothers' soundtrack paced the movie, but it wouldn't have worked as well in this interpretation anyway.

For people who didn't see the movie or who objected to Joe Wright's highfalutin pretensions, there's a good chance this version of Hanna will work better than for fans of the movie. I'd compare it to the way The CW's Nikita adapted Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita, in that it takes a piece of art that used genre as a delivery system for something more idiosyncratic and, instead, pushes the genre over the idiosyncrasies. Nikita wasn't a bad series. It started decently and eventually forged an identity of its own. Perhaps the final five episodes of the first season of Hanna will do the same.

Cast: Esme Creed-Miles, Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman

Creator: David Farr

Premieres March 29, 2019, on Amazon.