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TV Review: Hanna is the teen killing machine you need to watch

Tight, exciting and engrossing, this 8-part Amazon Prime series is superior in almost every way to the original movie, says Chris Boyd.
TV Review: Hanna is the teen killing machine you need to watch

Esme Creed-Miles plays the teen assassin, Hanna. Source: Prime.

Six years after screenwriter Seth Lochhead showed a five page outline for Hanna to his supervisor at Vancouver Film School, it was in cinemas: a US$30 million feature with Saoirse Ronan as the teen killing machine, Eric Bana as her dad and Cate Blanchett as their evil nemesis. Indeed, Lochhead wrote the part of spymaster Marissa Wiegler with Blanchett in mind. It sounds like every young filmmaker’s fantasy come true.

Still, it’s hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for Lochhead. The further Hanna gets from him – the less control he has over his genetically modified child – the better she gets.

Critics who approved of the 2011 feature commented on its similarities to a fairytale. Those that disapproved of it did so for similar reasons. Aside from Hanna and her father, the bad guys are absurdly thin. Blanchett’s character only made sense in a Disney cartoon world.

By all accounts – Lochhead’s film school supervisor's for one – the writer’s cinematic vision was largely realised in Joe Wright’s feature. If you ask me, I think Wright got carried away by the Chemical Brothers soundtrack. There is some ridiculous cinematography – a POV barrel roll in Hanna’s first escape from captivity looks like it was done in post-production by the work experience student – and the pursuing thugs look like they were auditioning for Droogs #1 and #2 in A Clockwork Orange. It’s as if Wright were trying to do a Dennis Kelly, but lacked the Dulux paint, the drugs and/or the imagination. Much of it is wincingly awful.

So, a tight, exciting, brilliantly realised, eight-part series is the last thing I was expecting to see with the name Hanna on it. Ever.

A fair whack of the credit must go to British playwright and stage director David Farr, a minor collaborator and contributor to the 2011 script, but showrunner and principal writer for the new series. (He’s penned seven of the eight episodes.) Farr’s TV credits to date include 8 episodes of Spooks over six consecutive seasons and all six episodes of John Le Carre’s The Night Manager.

The Amazon Prime series (shot in Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and the UK) uses the plot of the feature film as a booster rocket, jettisoning it early and spectacularly. So even if you’re familiar with original story, you’re in for a treat. With seven hours instead of 100-odd minutes, there are backstories and side stories galore, detailed and engrossing.

The remake is superior in every key technical and dramatic detail with the possible exception of the casting of Hanna and her father. That said, newcomer Esme Creed-Miles and the increasingly ubiquitous Joel Kinnaman are every bit as good as the actors they replace: Ronan and Bana respectively. And, all due respect to Cate Blanchett, Mireille Enos (dead-set brilliant in the US remake of The Killing) has far more to work with in the fleshed-out role of Marissa Wiegler and makes the screen crackle accordingly.

As good as the overarching concept and chicane twists are, line-for-line the writing is nothing special or memorable. (Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve this ain’t!) But it is brought to vibrant life by relative unknowns like Creed-Miles and Rhianne Barreto who plays Hanna’s first ever friend Sophie. Michael Gow once said that it was the duty of the playwright to give actors words to be brilliant in. But that line entirely ignores the contribution of directors. Sarah Adina Smith’s direction of the first two episodes of Hanna makes the writing ring like an aeolean harp.

In lesser hands, Barreto’s role would be a horrible cliche: yet another sulky, noble, contrary, loyal, horny, horrible teenage daughter. She wrecks her family’s Moroccan holiday with her light-sucking negativity then adopts a roadside killer with an open heart. And we go: yep, that’s totally believable.

Smith has just a couple of indie features to her name – notably The Midnight Swim (2014) and Buster’s Mal Heart (2016) – and even fewer TV credits (HBO’s Room 104 is pretty much it), but she is patently an actor-whisperer of the highest order: as capable directing a girl bash the pulp out of a tree – or any passing bloke with ill intent – as she is directing a summer holiday road trip. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Chris Boyd

4.5 stars

Hanna. Eight episodes. Approximately seven hours. Streaming on Amazon Prime.


Next Week, Chris Boyd reviews The Twilight Zone reboot, coming to Channel Ten.

Chris Boyd

Thursday 11 April, 2019

About the author

Chris Boyd is an arts writer and critic, mostly of performing arts. He is currently Melbourne theatre critic for the Australian and has had long spells with the Financial Review, the Herald Sun (reviewing theatre and ballet), the Big Issue (as arts and literary editor) and the Melbourne Times. He has also worked for the Age as contemporary dance writer and as their first ‘fringe’ critic. He tweets as @MelbourneArts.