Incredibly violent with not much of a plot to go on, “Hardcore Henry” plays out like a video game.
Audiences aren’t really in control, however, as director Ilya Naishuller and his team of filmmakers take viewers on an insane, gore-filled ride for 90 minutes.
The hook here is simple.
Filmed with Go-Pro cameras, viewers see everything from the perspective of Henry, a once-dead human brought back to life through futuristic cyborg technology. Like almost every other action movie ever filmed, his mission is clear: save the woman he loves from a psychopathic villain and his army.
The technological wizardry required to develop the intense first-person shooter cinematography style of “Hardcore Henry” is simply astounding. “Hardcore Henry” was shot by three different cameramen, each taking turns playing the role of Henry while outfitted with a specialized helmet camera rig.
Every movement taken by Henry throughout the course of the film, from parkour style chase scenes to avoiding explosions on the freeway – is painstakingly shot by professionally trained stuntmen. “Hardcore Henry” puts the viewer in the driver’s seat and will be the closest most people will ever come to performing these mind-blowing feats.
Naishuller goes to great lengths to orient viewers in his cinematic world, keeping the pace down at the outset to prevent audiences from getting motion sickness. More sensitive viewers might want to steer clear, however, as the high-octane thriller moves into overdrive within the first 20 minutes and doesn’t let off the gas until the final seconds.
While action films vary on their level of violence, “Hardcore Henry” pushes the limits of gore to extreme measures and is definitely not for children. Characters are routinely stabbed, shot, decapitated and burned alive without hesitation and the graphic nature of these acts performed by Henry and others in the film is shown in complete detail.
Henry isn’t a character so much as an instrument for audiences to interpret the world of the film. In this regard, Naishuller – who also wrote the script – opted to render Henry mute. This enables viewers to better put themselves in Henry’s shoes as they follow the action, reinforcing the fact that they are quite literally Henry.
On his quest for vengeance and blood, Henry is aided by Jimmy, who may be one indestructible man with multiple personalities all played by “District 9” and “Elysium” star Sharlto Copley.
As the only developed character, Copley is a revelation as Jimmy, jumping from persona (indie punk rock Jimmy) to persona (military sniper Jimmy) to persona (hippie Jimmy) with ease. For what can best be described as a second-tier action film, Copley delivers a first-rate performance by elevating sub-par material beyond what it probably should have been.
Beyond Copley, most of the actors in the film don’t last long enough to matter save for Haley Bennett and Danila Kozlovsky. Bennett suffices as the pretty damsel in distress and Kozlovsky is an interesting choice to play the mysterious villain aiming to kill Henry just because, but neither stands out.
Veteran character actor Tim Roth makes a small, but important cameo as Henry’s father and the film would have been better served by expanding his role in the narrative.
As most second-rate action movies go, story and character development are tossed in the backseat with “Hardcore Henry.” Naishuller opts for bigger, bolder, bloodier action in lieu of giving viewers a satisfying storyline. It’s likely though that many audiences will be so entranced by the visuals that why things are happening won’t really matter.
Ultimately, “Hardcore Henry” isn’t as much a movie as it is a cinematic experience for the mature, blood-thirsty adult who routinely enjoys first-person shooter video games.
The point-of-view technology developed and used by Naishuller in “Hardcore Henry” has interesting and wide-ranging possibilities for other filmmakers, though the hope is that future films can better implement plot devices to keep the movie more engaging beyond a visual level.
Fans of Copley from “District 9” or “Elysium,” those wanting a bloody good time at the movies or moviegoers excited about the first-person perspective of the film will find “Hardcore Henry” exactly what they’re looking for. Other film fanatics should probably wait and take a chance on the film when it arrives on Bluray and DVD later this year.