From the first frame of the credits until the end of the film, the audience is treated to be the star of their own high-octane action movie and be able to live every single scene as if it was them running all over the city fighting hundreds of faceless enemies in Hardcore Henry. Russian director Ilya Naishuller of Russian rock band Biting Elbows continues the concept he used music videos The Stampede and Bad Motherfucker, where he straps a GoPro to the protagonist and they carry out their adventures from the first person perspective.
Hardcore Henry is billed as the first “first-person” action film where we follow the titular character Henry, some sort of weird cyborg super soldier as he runs around town trying to avoid getting killed and discover the truth about himself. The movie wastes no time letting you know just what type of film you are going into, the opening credits prepare you for the relentless blood, guts, and action you can expect for the next 90+ minutes.
Now let’s be honest, this is not a movie we will be seeing for its character-driven elements or intricate plot. The film does try and build a minor mythology, but it’s not fully explored during the film. It’ll probably be further reviewed if this film gets any sequels.
It’s an action film, we know what we are getting into! We want action, guns, car chases, and awesome fight scenes. If that’s your cup of tea, this film will not disappoint at all! Many of the fights are so well choreographed, you can definitely tell they’ve been influenced by films like The Raid, District B13, and those films' subsequent sequels. Boy, are they bloody! There are more than a few moments that will have audience members groaning at the bone-breaking stabby violence as well.
Because the audience is Henry, technically there is no “top star” for the role. The actor who stands out the most in this film is Sharlto Copley of District 9 fame, who plays Jimmy, Henry’s permanent sidekick. Why is he a “permanent sidekick?” Well, that’s part of the mythology associated with the film explored briefly. He plays a secret agent, a hippie, a drunkard, and even a singer on the piano. He does enjoy chewing up the scenery throughout the film and thoroughly enjoys dropping as many f-bombs as humanly possible, and because of his accent the audience loves to hear it! Actor Tim Roth also plays a minor role as Henry’s father seen through flashbacks. Both actors have an Obi-Wan and Yoda type of role either guiding Henry or giving him inspiration throughout the film as he claws through endless henchmen. Actress Haley Bennett serves as scientist Estelle, the first person Henry meets when he wakes up. Because Henry has no memory and she tells him they are husband and wife, she serves mostly as his “damsel in distress” throughout the film as she is kidnapped by the bad guys. Russian actor Danila Kozlovsky plays the main baddie Akan while there’s not much “there” there in his role, but he does have a distinct look.
The film works great on a visual level. The action is so well choreographed that if the film is commercially successful, we will be seeing many copycats for years. For most of the runtime of the film, it’s a complete adrenaline rush with brief pauses for quick plot points. Audience members that have vertigo issues might find this film problematic because there are a few moments that can leave one quite dizzy. The only limitation of the filmmaking technology was that we never got to hear Henry say one word. It’s quite hard for the hero of the film to be a mute, after all, who’s going to give great one-liners after they make a cool kill? The story rectifies him not speaking this within the first five minutes telling Henry that his voice modulator wasn’t installed correctly. As a result, Henry’s communication consists of simple “yes” or “no” nods in reaction to someone talking to him.
For those on the fence as to the violence and are thinking of having young ones tag along, please don’t. The violence is very Kill Bill-ish, and as bone-breaking as The Raid. There is a scene where Henry goes to a brothel and we get a “first-person” perspective of all the shenanigans going on there. This is a very adult film!
Hardcore Henry is a ground-breaking achievement in technical filmmaking. The film itself is a little thin, but it is a great experience to have at your local theater. The movie is bound to gain a cult following both here and abroad, especially in Russia. The film works very much like a video game, so gamers and action fans alike will absolutely be delighted. Does this mean we’ll be seeing more first-person films in the future? Well, Pandemic came on VOD, but if Hardcore Henry is successful, we’ll be sure to see many more films of this caliber.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5