Starring: Esme Creed-Miles, Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Rhianne Barreto, Andy Nyman
Writers: David Farr (8 episodes), Seth Lochhead (1 episode), Ingeborg Topsøe (1 episode)
Director: Anders Engström, Jon Jones, Amy Neil, Sarah Adina Smith
Production Company: Amazon Studios
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
Physical enhancements. Superior intelligence. Healthy and longer lifespans. Genetic study and manipulations have made remarkable strides in the last decades. Whether morally right or wrong, we continue to try and build a world in which ever more such manipulations are and will be possible. It’s not an easy feat, requiring extensive research and significant financial commitments. However, in the realm of science fiction, governed only by our imagination, there are no restrictions.
Our fascination with genetic enhancements, whether by design or by accident, led to the development of excellent movies and television shows. Modifying animals in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Rampage (2018), Deep Blue Sea (1999), or even Jurassic Park (1993) gave us great summer box office treats. Some fares have taken a more tempered human-centric approach such as Gattaca (1997) and Blade Runner (1982). Then, there are the ones that deal with more fantastic mutations that create superhumans, like the X-Men series.
While most of the above are impressive, they remain mostly fantasy. Grounded in a reality closer to ours is Hanna (2019). Here, our titular girl is first seen as a baby in an isolated facility. For reasons unknown, a woman and man kidnap her. Fast forward many years, and we find out that the man, Erik (Joel Kinnaman, Altered Carbon) who claims to be Hanna’s (Esme Creed-Miles) father has raised her, tucked away in a Romanian forest, away from society.
During this time, Erik has trained Hanna to be a skilled fighter. Having been a particularly good CIA agent and soldier in the past, he imparts all of his knowledge to her to create an impressive fighting and killing machine. But Hanna is a teen. And she’s curious. She disobeys her father and ventures beyond the safety boundary he set up. Inevitably, they are discovered shortly thereafter. And particularly interested in catching Hanna is Marissa (Mireille Enos), Erik’s ex-boss.
Hanna is an intertwined show of two stories. On the one hand, there is Erik’s goal in trying to deal with Marissa. Hanna has a role to play in this, which partly explains why he’s trained her. And this story is developed slowly, but effectively. Admittedly, Erik lies to Hanna, thereby casting doubt and ambiguity on the viewer’s understanding of his motives. But it works as it heightens the suspense and encourages us to continue watching. Just like Goldilocks enjoyed the perfect porridge, questions about Erik, Marissa, and their connection are answered sparsely, yet perfectly as the episodes progress.
The second story is about Hanna, the teen. Hers is a story of discovery, first about the world. Hanna was taken as a baby from a hospital ward. She and Erik live in a forest, with him her only teacher and source for all things worldly. But she’s a teenager and is naturally curious. Inevitably, she seeks out answers, which ends their secret life. Second, Hanna is also a teenager. Not only is she interested in the world, but as a girl, she begins to get curious about herself, including clothes, make-up, and of course, her sexuality. I was simultaneously laughing and cringing during the scenes where she meets boys her age.
Lastly, her journey is also one of self-discovery. There are so many questions, and she wants answers. Who is she? Who is her father? Why are they living the life they are? Who is her mother? And she knows that Erik lies to her, or at least avoids answering. Seeking out these answers, which are tied to the Marissa arc, make for a gripping thriller. The show doles out answers in a way to satisfies our curiosity while simultaneously keeping us engaged in the story and wanting more.
The actors perform well. Mireille Enos is perfect as the antagonist. She is calm and cool under clear pressure to deal with Erik. His secrets threaten her and those she loves. Joel Kinnaman, though playing a similar role as in Altered Carbon (2018), still fits the role well. He has secrets and a shady past. Kinnaman is a good actor, and I’ve enjoyed what he’s done. However, I wonder if he’s beginning to be typecast. In three recent roles, (Suicide Squad (2016), Altered Carbon (2018), and now Hanna), he plays similar brooding, quiet, hiding internal anger or violence – type characters.
The best performance, bar none, goes to Esme Creed-Miles. She’s a relative newcomer, appearing only in a handful of projects so far. However, she plays Hanna with outstanding credibility and realism. Being 18 does give her an advantage, having recently lived the years in which we find Hanna. Her lack of worldly knowledge leads to an innocence well displayed throughout Hanna’s journey. Creed-Miles manages to elicit sympathy, even if some of her behaviors are inappropriate or even illegal. And the producers craftily juxtapose this with her dangerous assassin-like side. Esme Creed-Miles is the soul of the show, and she delivers.
The setting is fun as well. With many of the production companies now able to film in various parts of the globe, there’s an added authenticity to them. With increasing competition between the various providers such as HBO, Netflix, and Amazon, not only is the ability to tell a good story an important ingredient to success but so is the attention to little details such as accuracy of location. It serves to improve the overall quality of the show. Hanna is no different, filmed partly in Poland, Romania, Morocco, and Germany. It manages to ground Hanna in our world with visual evidence.
I really dug the action. There are a number of fight sequences, including typical gunfights, that are well done. But what stood out is the hand-to-hand combat. It was well choreographed, coming off as a dance between long-standing partners, rather than a thuggish street fight. Joel Kinnaman uses his size to complement his slight lack of grace, as do most of the other adults. However, and whether this is intentional or not, it is Esme Creed-Miles again who excels. It’s easy to forget that she is but a young teenager when she fights. It’s a testament to her skills and undoubtedly, her trainer.
Hanna splendidly elicits a variety of emotions from viewers. Most obvious is the nail-biting tension that comes from the sequences where Hanna, Erik, and the CIA keep confronting one another. There’s also sadness resulting from Hanna not able to live a normal life, not having (nor having known) a mother, and having a father who lies to her. Yet, all that heaviness is contrasted by elements of innocence and even humor. Recall that Hanna has not lived in normal society. As a result, as she travels, she is exposed to many situations for the first time. For example, in preparation to a tense stand-off, Hanna tries to learn how to play soccer, with hilarious consequences. It’s an easy show to watch.
If there is one slight frustration, it was the unanswered questions, and not necessarily the ones that dealt with the story, but rather ones about the details. For example, when we witness Hanna training with Erik at the beginning, she is learning to shoot a gun. However, being isolated, it begs the question as to where Erik would have gotten his supplies. Where did all that ammunition come from? Does this mean he left Hanna behind to go back to society? Thankfully, it doesn’t detract from appreciating the show.
Hanna is an excellent show. Although apprehensive at first given the previous movie from 2011, I was impressed. The acting, the action, the story, the whole package was well put together. And though eight episodes long, the story never feels stretched out, detracting, or boring. Every part works well. Amazon Studios is once again behind an excellent production and a must-watch show.