Hardcore Henry (2016)
Review by Nic Brown
I recently had the opportunity to see a special screening of Hardcore Henry, the first feature film shot entirely from the first-person perspective of the main character. The preceding Q&A session with writer/director Ilya Naishuller and supporting actor Sharlto Copley added some interesting insights into the film as I watched it.
The first thing to remember when you go to watch Hardcore Henry is that it is not a cerebral film. There is a story and a plot, but as drive-in movie guru Joe Bob Briggs used to say: “The film doesn’t let the plot get in the way of the story”. That’s important with a film like Hardcore Henry because the action is the story.
The second thing to remember about this film is don’t blink. There is too much going on for you to waste your time with blinking.
The film opens with a stylized credits sequence showing random acts of violence done in slow motion, leaving no doubt in the viewer’s mind what they are about to experience. This is followed by a short scene of three young bullies breaking a child’s toy robot, and the boy’s father admonishing him for being weak. Then you open your eyes and the world is screwed up. You appear to be in a laboratory and there is a beautiful woman scientist who first fixes your vision, and then screws on your missing forearm and missing leg.
You escape with Estelle only to find you’re not in a normal lab; you’re in an airship and have to use an escape pod to get out. You and Estelle use it, and land on a freeway in Moscow. Unfortunately Akan’s men arrive almost immediately and Estelle is captured. You are nearly killed (again?) but a strange ‘secret agent’ type shows up and identifies himself as your friend Jimmy. He’s here to help. Sounds like a lot has happened right? Well, you’re only about 10 minutes into the movie!
From this point, the story takes on the feel of a first-person shooter video game as you are given locations you must reach and tasks you must complete, all with the help of Jimmy, a guy you may, or may not be able to trust. What’s the ultimate goal? Get your wife back from Akan and stop him before he can use her knowledge to build an unstoppable army of cyborg soldiers that will allow him to… well I guess take over the world, they’re kind of vague about what he’ll do with them, but it’s bad.
Hardcore Henry is a film experience unlike anything I’ve seen before. The story is primarily a tool to propel Henry through action sequence after action sequence. Normally this does not make for an entertaining film. However, Hardcore Henry is different. Director Ilya Naishuller used 13 GoPro cameras and a small army of stuntmen to make a film that is both visually stunning and incredibly fun to watch.
Once the action starts, it doesn’t stop. The film has every kind of action you can imagine: gun play, knife play, free running, rappelling, flamethrower attacks, car chases, base jumping…. And yes most exciting of all: show tunes! Naishuller takes the first-person perspective in filmmaking to new heights and makes the most out of new camera technologies. He and his team take it one step further as they developed custom rigging for the cameras that allowed the actors playing Henry complete freedom of motion while capturing all the action.
While there are very few actors featured in the film, it is worth mentioning some of the key performances. The character of Henry was not played by one single actor. Instead, Henry was played by a dozen or so actors and stuntmen. Why so many? Well as Naishuller put it, when the film needed Henry to do parkour, they used a stuntman who free runs. When the film needed Henry to ride a horse, they used a stuntman who could ride and so on. No one “Henry” did everything, but all of them came together to make one hell of a ride.
The other actor who deserves serious praise is Sharlto Copley. Copley made a name for himself as the star of the indie scifi film District 9 and later as Murdock in the A-Team remake. However, Hardcore Henry is the film where his skill as an actor comes through the most. He plays a dozen different versions of himself in the film. Why? I don’t want to give that away, but you see him as everything from a cocaine-crazed sex junkie to a British army officer. Each character is him, but each character is also unique with his own look and style. From an acting perspective, playing so many different characters in one film must have been truly challenging, but Copley sure makes it look like a lot of fun.
Hardcore Henry is not a movie for everyone. If you’re looking for a deep plot with meaningful insights into the meaning of life… well this ain’t it. If you’re looking for a visually stunning rollercoaster ride of non-stop action featuring some of the most innovative cinematography to hit the screen in years, then Hardcore Henry is for you. So grab some motion sickness pills, a couple of energy drinks, and check out Hardcore Henry, but don’t be surprised if you need a nap when it’s over. All that action is exhausting!