Director: Ilya Naishuller
Writer: Ilya Naishuller (Additional writing by Will Stewart)
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovksy, Haley Bennett, Oleg Poddubnyy, Andrew Dementiev and Tim Roth
Synopsis: A first-person action film from the eyes of Henry, who’s resurrected from death with no memory. He must discover his identity and save his wife from a warlord with a plan to bio-engineer soldiers.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
A couple of years ago, the music video for Biting Elbows’ “Bad Motherfucker” came out and it made a lot buzz when it did. It was an impressive – and bloody – first-person perspective, or POV, action video shot on a GoPro by Ilya Naishuller, the frontman of the band. So, when Naishuller was asked about extending that idea to a feature-length film in the same format by producer – and star of the film – Sharlto Copley and producer Timur Bekmambetov, he accepted the challenge. What we get is a full-fledged, jam-packed action film that will satisfy any movie fan that wanted or thought it would be cool to see a movie shot like a first-person shooter game. Is Hardcore Henry for everyone? No, but if you want to try and watch something new, then give the film a chance.
Hardcore Henry, despite its experimental format, is rather simple in terms of storytelling. The film is told through the eyes of Henry, who wakes up in a lab by his wife Estelle (Bennett) who gives him a cybernetic arm, leg and eyes after a terrible accident – that is never actually revealed – and Henry is about to get a new life, since he memories have also been erased. That is until the process is interpreted by a telekinetic warlord named Akan (Kozlovsky), who wants Henry for something. Estelle manages to get Henry out of the lab, only for Estelle to get kidnapped by Akan and Henry having to go save her with the help of Jimmy (Copley), or should I say, Jimmy’s.
Hardcore Henry doesn’t take itself too seriously, which works for film and was probably the best way to go. This kind of film lives off being ridiculous in the action, especially since the villain in the movie has telekinetic powers, Sharlto Copley plays wildly different characters all named Jimmy, the film is told in the POV format with a main character that does not talk, and it’s called Hardcore Henry.
On a technical level, Hardcore Henry is pretty successful. No matter how you feel about watching a whole movie told through the eyes of someone else, everything that happens onscreen is mind-blowingly great to see. The stunts and the set-pieces are all amazing to watch and I’m surprised that we didn’t read anyone getting seriously hurt or worse. So credit is due to the stunt team involved, and for Naishuller – in his directorial debut – for being able to pull everything off, because Hardcore Henry is filled with crazy stunts in every single action scene.
Not only that, but Naishuller making his first movie a movie that is filmed like a first-person shooter video game is pretty ballsy. Some parts even feel like a video game. None of the action sequences are the same, I mean sure there all pretty loud and have shaky camera work, but if you can make it past that, you’ll see how Naishuller tries his best to not make any of the action sequences the same. The action is pretty engaging and makes the film work even more. Again, if you’re not use to the format then Hardcore Henry is going to be pretty hard for you to watch. I’m a video gamer, so I’m use to the format, but even I felt a headache coming in near the end. The nice thing is that Naishuller takes into account the fact that not everyone is going to be ready for the POV style, and even slows the action down a bit, but when the action is on, the action is jam-packed and in your face (literally).
The only real person that gets any real screen time is Sharlto Copley, who steals every scene he’s in with his different characters. I won’t get into how that works, and Copley brings something different to every character that makes him a standout in every possible way. Kozlovsky’s Akan is clearly enjoying himself as the villain, and even has a certain charm about him that make him a pretty good villain, but if he was given more screen time he could have been even greater. Of course the film is told through Henry’s eyes, so that cuts out that option. Haley Bennett’s Estelle doesn’t get enough screen time to really shine, but she is good in the limited screen time she has.
Now, Hardcore Henry isn’t a perfect film by any means. The ending falls a bit flat and doesn’t really carry the emotional punch it probably should considering what happens, but the whole film doesn’t really have anything else going on. It’s a simple “get back your girl and kill the bad guys” story, which is fine as long as there is compelling characters, and while Hardcore Henry has two major compelling actors, it doesn’t mean it’s all that great. I’m not bashing the film by any means. Like I said, Hardcore Henry on a technical and stunt level is fantastic, but when it comes to everything else, it’s just okay.
All in all, Hardcore Henry will probably spark the curiosity of other studios and directors to try, but for the movie itself it’s not that bad. Ilya Naishuller does a fantastic job bringing the scope of this film together. An easy standout is Sharlto Copley and the format itself is an interesting experiment that worked for the most part, but it won’t be for everyone.
3 out of 5