Hanna is an incredibly thought-provoking analogy for teenage angst disguised as a thrilling spy drama, that makes you think… who is this for? It’s like if Taken focused more on Liam Neeson’s daughter and she was a trained killer too, but she also wanted to kiss boys and be a normal kid in between killing grown men with her bare hands and running for her life. Doesn’t really sound that relatable, does it? But that’s the thing, it actually is. It’s Hanna(h) Montana meets Taken and it amazing.
For those who don’t know, Hanna is a film from 2011 about a sixteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father her entire life to be prepared for a mysterious looming threat that someone will come to kill her one day. She’s raised in isolation in the deep forests of Poland until eventually her cover is blown and she is separated from her father and must run for her life, all while unraveling the mystery of who she is, both literally and figuratively.
When I first started seeing posters for this show in all the subway stations near where I live I was convinced it was a completely original story that just so happens to be about a teenage girl who kills people in Europe and whose name is also Hanna. Because why would you remake this? I mean I loved the original, so for me, this show is just more of a good thing, I’m not complaining, I just don’t understand it. To be fair the original was a bit of a sleeper hit and I guess you could call it a cult classic but… it just seems so unmarketable.
The show is gorgeously shot and it takes full advantage of its Trans-European setting. The show switches back and forth between multiple characters’ storylines and it uses these breaks in pace to show a more diverse colour pallet. The spy thriller moments are cool and blue with a typically more shallow depth of field, whereas the coming-of-age moments are more vivid and green.
There are some pretty incredible sequences that will have you on the edge of your seat too. Joel Kinnaman’s performance as the lone-wolf killer badass, Erik Heller, is never boring. There are a lot of shots of somebody watching someone else do karate and reacting to it but I chalk that all up to budget restraints and I’m glad they spent as much as they probably did on locations and music rights.
The action scenes are still tense and unpredictable though, and really, I think it all comes down to geography. The show does a great job of making sure you’re aware of how close Bad Girl A is to Good Guy B and how close Good Guy C is to stopping her. The tension comes from the narrative of the action sequences and not from seeing sixty edits in ten seconds like the above mentioned Taken movies. There are some sequences later on that don’t hold up to this as well but in general, you really feel like the characters are in danger when shit’s going down.
My favorite character is the one I think people (if anyone actually watches this show) will like the least. Early on in the show, Hanna meets a young girl named Sophie while Sophie is on vacation with her dysfunctional family in Morocco. Hanna uses Sophie’s family to travel from
point A to point B without being detected and the two quickly become friends despite having nothing superficially in common.
I could easily see how some people would find Sophie annoying but I don’t think that’s an accident. Sophie’s still figuring out who she is. To her, liking boys and hearing your parents arguing is just as stressful as being hunted down by trained killers. Because when you’re sixteen and you live in suburbia, being accepted feels like it’s life or death.
And by the way, it’s stressful for Hanna too. Puberty sucks no matter who you are and pain is relative. Like Sophie, Hanna is trying to figure out who she is, but the difference is that Hanna never learned to put on a mask. So she’s just left with a blank slate, like all of a sudden she’s born and she’s already a teenager. It’s very relatable. I feel like a lot of teenagers feel like they’ve been raised in isolation in a less literal sense so the literal experience of Hanna discovering the world around her and being scared and excited at the same time is a beautiful little metaphor for what we all go through at that age.
And I think that’s the point. I think the point of the show is that we can all empathize with each other even when it seems like we have nothing in common. Because at the end of the day we’re all pretty much the same. We all feel pain. We’re all hypocrites. We all feel like imposters. We’re all just old children trying to cope with the things we can’t control and trying to figure out what the hell to do with the things we can.
Rhianne Barreto (Sophie) seems to be acutely aware of the real depth of her character and her performance is shockingly subtle. Mireille Enos, (Marissa) can be a bit flat in her delivery, but in Enos’ defense, I think it works for her character to let her actions speak for themselves, and to maintain composure even though it makes her seem cold. Still, though, I feel like Enos could have done more with it.
Like with Enos I think it would be unfair to call Esme Creed-Miles’s performance flat. Hanna is a very relatable character but she’s never really been socialized with anyone but her father. Her character has a lot of depth but it’s not something I think you could show with too much emotion and I think Creed-Miles threads that needle perfectly.
Like the original, Hanna 2019 uses music masterfully to take control of your engagement with each scene. It comes up behind you when you’re not expecting it and it can feel almost ethereal at times when the music so perfectly matches the mood of the show. They’ll use anything from weird polish hip-hop to trippy euro-house, too melodramatic teen-pop, to just a bumping spy-thriller-esque ambient score to tell you how to feel about a certain character or to keep you in rhythm with what’s happening on screen. And it all works. Sometimes I wish the music were a little more constant though, and when it’s not there it can draw attention to the slowness of certain characters’ subplots. But overall they’ve really captured something special that made the original movie so great. And so underrated.
And like the original, I think this show too will be underrated. It’s kinda crazy sometimes how similar this show feels to the original. Obviously, the plot is mostly the same but there was a strange arthouse, free spirit vibe to the original film that this show seems to reflect. I hope it does well. I hope we see more shows like this one. It’s not afraid to have a deeper meaning and it trusts it’s audience to be diverse in their interests.