Directed by: Ilya Naishuller.
Written by: Ilya Naishuller and Will Stewart.
Starring: Sharlto Copley (Jimmy), Danila Kozlovsky (Akan), Haley Bennett (Estelle), Tim Roth (Henry's Father), Andrei Dementiev (Slick Dmitry), Svetlana Ustinova (Olga the Dominatrix), Darya Charusha (Katya the Dominatrix), Oleg Poddubnyy (Yuri).
Hardcore Henry is a movie that wants to pummel the audience into submission. It is pretty much 97 minutes of non-stop, video game style action – whatever little plot or ideas the film has are half formed at best, and jettisoned whenever the movie decides it’s time for the main to punch, shoot, stab or blow somebody up – which is pretty much every minute of the film. The gimmick of the film – that it’s entirely told from the first person perspective of the main character – isn’t new (the movie acknowledges this in at least one scene – where we see a poster for the 1947 film, Lady in the Lake, which did the same thing from Phillip Marlowe’s perspective), although it is a gimmick that (thankfully) isn’t used very often. The action in Hardcore Henry is loud, bloody, violent and non-stop – and also pretty much utterly incoherent. The experience really is like watching someone else play a really bad first person shooter video game for 97 minutes.
The title character of Hardcore Henry is a man who was supposedly killed not that long ago, but who is now awakened with no memories, by his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) – who explains who he is, and gives attached his robotic limbs to him. Soon, her airborne lab is invaded by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a freaky albino madman who can move things with his mind, who wants Estelle’s research so he can build his own indestructible army of Hardcore Henry’s. Of course, Henry escapes, and he spends the rest of the movie running off on one mission after another – following directions on a GPS phone, and having Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) show up every so often to explain things to him. We see Jimmy more often than anyone else in the film – as Copley plays countless different versions of him – clones, I think, so when one drops, another takes his place.
If I can say nothing else well about Hardcore Henry – and I don’t think I can – it’s that the filmmakers do seem to know precisely what kind of film they want to make, and commit to it fully. The film is pretty much non-stop violence and bloodshed, stopping just long enough to explain the barebones of the plot, or in one sequence, to supply some gratuitous nudity because a movie like this requires gratuitous nudity. After seeing Copley in films like District 9, Oldboy and Chappie, I still have no idea if he’s a good actor or not, but one thing you cannot deny about him is how fully he commits to something, even if it’s going to make him look like a complete and utter idiot. He does that here to be sure – and while it’s not what I would call a good performance, it isn’t a boring one either.
If only I could say the same about the movie – but I can’t, because Hardcore Henry is so single minded in its aims, that the non-stop chaos and bloodshed actually becomes really boring, really quickly. It’s the same damn thing over and over again for 97 minutes. There’s only so much bloodshed can watch before it all just blends together. Other than Copley, all the performances are horrible (well, as mentioned, Copley’s may well be horrible as well – but it’s entertaining bad, which the rest are not), and while the story tries to take a few twists in the last act, it doesn’t much work – mainly because it’s so obvious.
The worst thing about Hardcore Henry though – what makes it the worst film I have seen in quite some time – isn’t the acting, or the story or even the gratuitous violence and nudity – I kind of expected all that. It isn’t even the nihilism on display from beginning to end, because, well, same thing – I expected that. It’s that the entire reason for the movie existing is to make a first person shooter, video game style movie, and the visuals are, for the most part, incoherent – especially in the action sequences. That’s the reason why we’re watching the movie in the first place – but everything movies so quickly, with a constant jostling camera and swish pans, that it’s really all a headache inducing blur. I have my doubts that a movie told entirely in first person perspective can be great – but I have no doubt that one can be better than Hardcore Henry.