HARDCORE HENRY Review
In the action thriller HARDCORE HENRY, a man wakes up in a high-tech lab and is told by a woman in a lab coat he has been brought back to life as a human-robot hybrid. He can’t remember anything but she tells him his name is Henry and she is his wife, slipping a wedding ring on his finger. But as she is preparing to restore his ability to speak, the lab is attacked. Shortly, Henry is running for his life in Moscow and hoping to rescue his wife from the attackers who have taken her.
The twist with this high-octane thriller is that it is shot in first-person point-of-view, where the audience sees through Henry’s eyes as he battles to stay alive using his considerable skills. Since he cannot speak, the viewer is completely immersed in his role, which is shot like a GoPro video where we sometimes see his legs or arms but not his face. HARDCORE HENRY is a wild-ride, high body-count, science fiction action thriller, so it also resembles a first-person shooter video game. The result is immersive and intense – at times, too much so for some viewers and making one glad the film is not in 3D.
HARDCORE HENRY claims to be the first film shot entirely in first-person view. That claim may or may not be true but, of course, it is not the first film to use the technique. We have seen similar effects in several “found-footage” films and the technique was used to great effect in the beach landing sequence of “Saving Private Ryan” and in several film noir classics including the Bogart and Bacall mystery “Dark Passage,” which uses the technique in the first half.
HARDCORE HENRY’s use of GoPro cameras gives it a wild and exhilarating feel. The non-stop pace is almost as breathtaking as the dizzying P.O.V. camera-work. The film has plenty of shooting and violent action, especially in the early scenes, and it is relentlessly fast but it also has a mystery plot and actually includes a fair amount of dark humor. The film’s producers include Timur Bekmambetov, director of the vampire-themed “Night Watch,”who knows a thing or two about action films, and it is directed by Ilya Naishuller. The action takes place in Moscow and surroundings, but characters speak English, as they do in the lab where Henry awakens, or subtitled Russian, as do the army of thugs who pursue Henry.
Since the viewer is essentially Henry, much of the storytelling is carried by another character, Jimmy, played with great flare by Sharlto Copley. The versatile South African actor is perhaps best known for his role in “District 9,” where he transformed from a man into a shrimp-like alien. Here Copley plays an eccentric Brit who shows up on a Moscow street, saying he is there to help Henry. Haley Bennett plays Estelle, the woman who awakens Henry. Henry’s attackers are under the control of Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a mysterious wealthy madman with his own special powers.
Bennett and Kozlovsky are fine in their roles but the real acting fun and showcase goes to Copley, who appears in a number of disguises, and supplies plenty of humor along with the backstory. Basically, it is really his film and Copley is great fun in the role.
HARDCORE HENRY has an innovative approach but it is hardly a perfect or profound film – it is just entertainment. The film is heavy on action, having a blast with its unusual visual technique, but a bit light on story. However, it is a lot of fun for fans of science fiction action thrillers, with a nice performance by Copley – assuming the viewer has the iron stomach for the roller coaster visuals.
HARDCORE HENRY opens in St. Louis on April 8th, 2016