Hardcore Henry. 2016. Directed & Written by Ilya Naishuller.
Starring Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth, Andrei Dementiev, Svetlana Ustinova, Darya Charusha, Oleg Poddubnyy, Will Stewart, & Ilya Naishuller.
Bazelevs Production/Versus Pictures.
Rated 18A. 96 minutes.
We’ve certainly seen point-of-view films, mostly the horror genre tackling them, though they are out there in several genres. Right back to 1947’s big screen Raymond Chandler adaptation, Lady in the Lake. So the film world is not completely foreign to this idea. However, Hardcore Henry takes it further than any other film really has before. Upping the stakes, director-writer Ilya Naishuller takes that first-person perspective and uses very similar to how it’s done in video games. Instead of trying to keep it simple, innovate at a basic level, Naishuller, a handful of cinematographers, and a massively talented team craft this into a spectacularly creative effort of science fiction-action madness. If anything, you’ve got to admire the work put in. So many of the action sequences are mind boggling. The camera work is something to behold, as the whole team behind the film’s look makes us feel like we’re constantly inside one of those video games it hopes to emulate.
There are some flaws. No movie is perfect, even those I happen to give a full 5 stars. No matter how great a film, there’s never been a perfect piece of cinema down to the bone. Each one has its missteps. Some bigger than others, but they’ve all got a blemish here or there. Nevertheless, Hardcore Henry helps us start to redefine what action movies are in the 21st century. During the latter bits of the 20th century, we had Terminator, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, before that there was Star Wars, Aliens, and later at the tail end there’s The Matrix. All those films have incredible elements to them, which made their appeal so large, lasting still to this day. Nowadays people are always looking for more. They want bigger, badder, wilder action. This may not be a masterpiece. Although, it is an excitingly fun ride through a science fiction story on the wings of awesomely executed action.
There’s never much rest for the wicked here. Constantly, Henry takes you on his fascinating run of survival. In the opening ten minutes you get a solid ahead of what’s going on in terms of character, plot. Then after that it’s headlong into action. Love the head-mounted camera they work with here; most of the work is done on GoPro Hero3 Black Edition cameras. Lots of films have used these types of rigs, but this film pushes its efficiency to the limit. It holds up well, too. Absolutely some shaky moments. I’ve got to say: on the whole, it keeps things looking nice for the majority of the action. Plus, it allows us that first-person shooter look. As if you’re literally playing a video game.
The stunts are beyond impressive. Henry is played by almost a dozen different stuntmen, including the director himself at times. And these guys really do fascinating work. At times, it’s hard to believe a few of the stunts they pull off. Apparently, there were only a few minor injuries, as opposed to some action movies where you hear about a broke bones and filming setbacks due to stunt accidents, so on. Goes to show you how well these stunts are performed. In many scenes, it’s like you’re running parkour along with Henry. Things can get disorienting once in awhile, no doubt. I feel that overall the movie’s exciting enough that the chaos doesn’t take away from any of that.
Some of my favourite scenes:
The escalator sequence is great, not to mention an extra actually got in the way and was knocked down like we see in the finished film; works so well with that moment. Just the effort in terms of stunts behind that is gnarly.
An excellently performed moment of humour when Henry tries to mount a horse. I believe it’s some Magnificent Seven music which plays, right before he gets bucked off and the horse runs away. Makes me laugh so hard and I thought that was perfect. Does so much wild shit throughout yet can’t even manage to ride a horse more than a couple feet.
The climactic scene with its opening moments set to Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” makes me so happy. Partly because I’m one of the biggest Queen fans this side of the pond. Partly because the song itself just fits so oddly well with the action in this sequence.
This brings me to another point. Certain critics out there seemed to find their excitement waning after awhile because they say there’s not enough character or emotion to keep the film’s interest. I totally disagree. There’s an enormous amount of mystery. We get little slices of the characters, the situation, what’s happening at the base of it all. But ultimately so much of Hardcore Henry remains mysterious. I mean, you really don’t find it at all interesting to ponder the origins of Akan? There’s even a prequel comic called “Hardcore Akan” to flesh it out. Then with the entire story of Henry himself, we get a few answers yet most of it stays shrouded in darkness. Plus, as much as I love Die Hard, for instance, it isn’t John McClane and his personal journey that makes the movie so exciting (though his character’s story itself makes things better), it’s the action. It never hurts to have an expanded character background and all that. But when I come for action and adventure, I come to see the wild gunfights, the stunts, the exaggerated yet accomplished sequences of utter destruction. Again, Henry is a good character, as well. He’s just not loaded with exposition at every turn. This whole criticism I don’t get. If you stick with the movie, you get lots of character, plenty of emotion, right next to the action. Maybe some supposed critics aren’t watching close enough, perhaps too concerned with eating popcorn and candy. I don’t know.
Either way, I love the characters here, not just Henry. Sharlto Copley plays Jimmy so well and his character all around is just one of those intriguing types, an ever shifting identity in the action-adventure landscape. Copley’s a solid talent in any film, even the lesser ones he may happen to act in. Here, he gets to do some action, do some comic relief, as well as play an all around fun guy whose disguises are better than half the masks Tom Cruise wears in the Mission Impossible franchise (not knocking those; aside from the second one, I dig those flicks!). Adding Copley to the cast of any movie is bound to get my attention. He does a great job here and every time you see him reappear it’s a signal things are about go get out of hand.
Personally, to give this any less than 4&1/2 stars is doing an injustice. Once more I say, yes, this has its faults. There are a couple bits that either could’ve been changed, or maybe even improved. But mostly, Hardcore Henry is exciting as it should be, its chaos is wonderfully controlled, so that it doesn’t come off as never ending shaky cam uselessness. The frenetic style keeps us in the world of a video game from start to finish. Ilya Naishuller does a fantastic job with the direction and overall as a writer he keeps things interesting. The mix of adventure, action, and science fiction together here is a whole bag of breathtaking film making. Not sure why so many put this movie down. Of course, it isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. No movie will please all the viewers. Hardcore Henry is so much fun. I had a blast watching it. Make sure to see it on the big screen if you can, if not just sit back in front of a nice big television when you can rent it on VOD and have at some action anarchy. Don’t let people turn you away from this because they say there isn’t enough character, emotion, or whatever – there is, underneath so much of Henry’s adventurous journey and its barbarous action. See it, be the judge.
For me, one of the most amazing action movies of the 21st century.