Release: Friday, April 8, 2016
Written by: Ilya Naishuller
Directed by: Ilya Naishuller
Hardcore Henry isn’t a film for the thinking man. That might even be obvious from the title, one that hints at a crude breed of action-thriller where people excessively swear, have lots of tattoos and women — and innocent bystanders — are as disposable as a Kodak camera. But if you’re low on adrenaline and need a quick, main-line shot of it, Hardcore Henry‘s got you covered.
It’s no secret that the film has been subjected to all sorts of scrutiny based on its gimmicky first-person point of view, the use of Go Pro cameras designed to truly integrate audiences into the story, giving the impression that we’re the ones performing all the ass-kickery. “We” wake up in a strange room with only a female doctor circling around us, inspecting the work that has been done to our body after a devastating encounter has literally cost us an arm and a leg.
Before too long a hostile group of rebels . . . or something . . . appears and kidnaps our doctor, who apparently is also our wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett). (Needless to say, it’ll be less of an uphill battle for the male percentage of the audience to feel as if they really are Henry.) Leading this group of assholes is Akan (played by Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky, who in a few fleeting moments bears a passing resemblance to Benedict Cumberbatch when he played WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange), a warlord with telekinetic powers and a serious vendetta against us.
The film unfolds episodically, with some scenes in serious need of another edit or two. But there’s an abundance of energy as we lurch from one grimy set piece to another, stumbling across a map ripped straight out of Call of Duty. It’s also a little 007 meets Halo, the latter especially given all that the opening escape sequence reveals about our location. That, and the sophisticated technology that has provided enemies with untold amounts of firepower and has given Henry/us a new lease on life. The gore owes much to infamous PC releases like Soldier of Fortune and Half Life, the likes of which incentivized players to become creative with their kills.
‘Videogame-esque’ is a particularly apt description given the way information is drip-fed to us at various checkpoints, while perpetual gunfire and flamethrower . . . um, fire . . . all but confirms that it’s pretty much us against the world. We start the film as a slab of meat, unable to speak, having to learn how to use newly acquired prosthetic limbs, and our memory’s been wiped clean. Sharlto Copley‘s Jimmy, a crippled soldier who has managed to find a way to transplant his conscience into other people, is there to guide us from point A to B. He’s our shield for half the film, able to escape close calls by re-spawning as a different person.
Copley’s chameleonic role is one of those things that will either make you scoff at all the ridiculousness ongoing or it will make you scoff at all the ridiculousness ongoing. There’s no way around it — Jimmy is an absurd loophole for director Ilya Naishuller to justify how Henry/we can make it all the way through this film without being vocal about things. Or, alternatively, without being killed prematurely and having a movie that lasts all of 20 minutes. On the positive side, Copley gives us someone with whom we can interact, and his spirited performance serves the film well.
There aren’t many other performances to speak of, but Kozlovsky stands out as a psychopath bent on the resurrection of a bioengineered army of soldiers whose emotional and psychological components have been stripped away. Call Akan the Final Boss. We realize it’s he with whom we’re going to have to do battle, but on several occasions Naishuller and some brilliant camerawork make a compelling argument as to why that won’t be easy.
Hardcore Henry has a habit of raising questions it has no intention of answering. It brutalizes you with an onslaught of fighting sequences that also beg the question as to how many Go Pros were used in the making of, and the acting isn’t stellar. The story’s nothing any experienced gamer hasn’t immersed themselves in already, nor something any ’80s action flick geek hasn’t seen before. But it is far more than a gimmick; this is a unique, absurd and chaotic world that makes suspension of disbelief easy and that’s a big plus in my book.
Recommendation: The fast-and-frenetic action thrills of Hardcore Henry aren’t going to please all who flock to this unique cinematic presentation, but I’m happy to report that the camera set-up/POV filming isn’t the only selling point. The mystery we unfold as we go on is pretty compelling and the stunts occasionally give Mad Max‘s bloody confrontations a run for their money. I personally felt rewarded for the risk I took by seeing it.
Running Time: 96 mins.
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