Hardcore Henry is an inventive but failed experiment in action film-making
By Adam Hlava
I’ll get to this review, just as soon as my vertigo subsides ...
Where to begin with Hardcore Henry, an action film shot entirely in the first person point of view of its title character. The film is set in a futuristic Moscow where dead soldiers are reanimated and bio-engineered into fighting machines by a warlord named Akan (looking an awful lot like a Targaryen from Game of Thrones). In typical villain fashion, Akan wants to use these soldiers for presumably nefarious purposes. I should mention that Akan is inexplicably telekinetic, so if I’ve lost you already you know how I felt watching this film.
Henry is one of the aforementioned soldiers, who escapes Akan’s clutches but not before his wife is taken hostage. The bulk of the film has Henry running, parkouring, and shooting his way through bad guys in order to rescue his wife. It’s a simple story that really just serves as an excuse to go on an adventure through Henry’s eyes. At the end of the day, it’s a viscerally violent, breathtaking and mostly nauseating viewing experience.
Filmed almost entirely on a GoPro camera, the experience quickly becomes a test of endurance for the audience. At times things will slow down a bit while a character is reciting exposition to Henry, and it’s not only a much needed break from the movement but also necessary to understand the plot. Unfortunately the film is relentless in movement, with Henry constantly running, jumping, and dodging gunfire as he goes from one set piece to the next. The action most of the time is incomprehensible to the audience, especially at times when he’s falling from great heights, somersaults and rolls around on the ground. Imagine being on a roller-coaster and staring straight ahead for 90 minutes straight: that is the basic feeling of watching this movie - it can be thrilling, but it’s also too much.
A glimmer of light in the film comes in the form of Henry’s mysterious friend named “Jimmy” played with scene-chewing glory by South African actor Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium.) Here his character shows up frequently to help Henry get through sticky situations, only pausing in the third act for some narrative exposition. Sharlto seems to be having more fun than anyone else in this movie, and does a great job of adding to the campiness of what we’re seeing on screen. The only other actors with prominent speaking parts are Henry’s wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) and the villain Akon (Danila Kozlovsky). These are mostly forgettable characters who really only serve to inform the audience of the plot through their dialogue. But it’s Copley who shines the most and gets the meaty role (or roles, watch the film to see what I mean by that).
Due to the constant motion, I cannot recommend watching this on the big screen at a movie theater. If you’re curious about this experiment then you’ll be better off watching at home where you can take frequently-needed breaks for your eyes. I have an appreciation for filmmakers willing to push the boundaries of the medium and try something new and fresh. The degree of difficulty in making Hardcore Henry, I imagine, was quite high. Filmed on a mere $2 million budget (peanuts by Hollywood standards), this is certainly a type of achievement in film-making. But this simply does not work as a feature film and it asks too much of the audience to sit through a 90 minute roller-coaster. Maybe Hardcore Henry would have worked better as a short film, and perhaps one day we’ll get a Director’s Cut where they remove an hour of the film’s run-time. Until then wait until you can watch it on the smallest screen possible, if only for your own health.
Hardcore Henry opens nationwide April 8th.
Verdict: 2 out of 5 Seats