Dog’s Movie House: “Hardcore Henry” Interesting Novelty, Tough To Watch!
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
Have you ever wondered what it was like to watch a movie filmed like a first person shooting game? I know I haven’t, but somebody must have been clamoring for one, because the brains behind “Wanted” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” have decided that watching an action picture entirely from the point of view of the protagonist was a great idea. What’s the verdict? Well, the good news is that “Hardcore Henry” has some really neat action propelling a thin but still-interesting story. The bad news is that you have to sit through some wretched performances and some nausea-inducing shaky-cam to get to them.
The story begins with Henry (as played by the viewer. . .I have no idea who the actor is) waking up in a lab as a woman puts him back together. Henry’s memories are faulty and he can’t speak (due to having no voice module), so this woman by the name of Estelle (Haley Bennett) explains that he is an experimental cyborg soldier and that she is his wife. Before they can get all lovey-dovey (that would have been awkward in the first person, let me tell you) all hell breaks loose as a group of soldiers led by the sadistic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) raid the lab and attempt to either capture or kill Henry. He and Estelle evade capture and the chase is on until Estelle is recaptured and Henry is forced to fight through an army of goons to rescue his wife. He is aided along the way by a mysterious fellow named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley from “District 9”) a guy who has apparently mastered the skill of coming back from the dead. With Jimmy’s help, Henry’s mission is to stay alive while beating the bad guys and trying to rescue Estelle from the evil Akan (who just happens to be telekinetic for reasons not explained in the film.)
How much you like “Hardcore Henry” will very much depend on how well you can tolerate the shaky-cam aesthetic. If the trailers gave you a case of casual nausea, you should know that the entire movie is shot in this fashion. Writer/director Ilya Naishuller is known for applying this method to music videos and quite frankly I think the relative brevity of said videos works in favor of this particular format. The first person novelty doesn’t have time to wear off and the frenetic camera work doesn’t grate on the nerves. Applying the same principles to a ninety minute movie is another kettle of fish altogether.
That said, some of the action set pieces are quite impressive. When Henry is allowed to move in a somewhat linear fashion (rather than those quick, jerky, side-to-side or up-and-down movements) the movie attains a violent beauty that is quite breathtaking to watch. A foot chase through the streets of Moscow and a truck convoy chase involving a motorcycle, a massive machine gun, and a crap-ton of grenades are among the films highlights.
But when Henry is forced to fight multiple opponents coming at him from all sides, the shakiness of the camera work and the editing become almost too much to bear. You have a tendency to lose track of the geography of the action sequence during these scenes as your eyes desperately attempt to orient on something in the frame that’s not shaking like you’re standing in the middle of a 10.0 earthquake.
Naishuller’s script is a loose framework on which to build his mayhem-induced action, but I would have appreciated some more character development along with some competent performers to project said development. Copley is the star of the show here: his Jimmy is funny and engaging and when you figure out the secret to his returning from the dead it will make perfect sense. The film lifts when he’s on screen. Unfortunately, Bennett’s Estelle is bland for the most part and atrocious when it comes to a third act reveal. Kozlovsky is also somewhat hard to take as Akan. It’s clear they were going for a combination between Blofield and The Joker, but Kozlovsky (whether it’s from the English barrier or something else) doesn’t have nearly the chops to pull it off. Tim Roth gets a short amount of quality time as Henry’s Dad, but it doesn’t amount to much.
Overall, “Hardcore Henry” is sometimes innovative, often frustrating, and very, very energetic. If you have the stomach for the gravity defying camera work and don’t mind a few lackluster performances, “Hardcore Henry” may be your cup of over-the-top-violent tea. 2 1/2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!
“Hardcore Henry” is Rated R for non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use