Length: 96 mins
Writer: Ilya Naishuller, Will Stewart
Dir.: Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett
Hardcore Henry is bat-shit insane. It’s by far and away one of the strangest movies I have ever seen. A weird mix of computer game visuals, 80s action movie nostalgia, hyper-violence and YouTube style camera work. I walked out of the auditorium in a state of shock, unable to fully comprehend what I had just seen. Even now I’m struggling to find the words to describe the movie. It’s totally and utterly mind-boggling.
The film is shot almost entirely in first-person using Go Pro cameras, in a style that first time feature-length director Ilya Naishuller perfected in a couple of extremely well-done YouTube music videos that did the rounds a while back. It’s a gimmick to be sure, but it’s an interesting one, and Naishuller clearly had a lot of fun pushing the format to its limits. While a number of the visuals and stunts are genuinely impressive to watch, the inherent jerkiness of the camera work coupled with the default fish-eye lenses of the cameras can be extremely disorientating. It takes a while for your brain and your eyes to get used to it.
It’s been said a lot, but I’ll say it again: this movie feels like being in a non-interactive video game. This isn’t just because of the first-person viewpoint (or the silent protagonist for that matter) – the action, story and setting are also a big part of it. One sequence toward the end of the film feels and looks like a Call of Duty mission – so much so that I half expected someone to say “switch to your side-arm, it’s faster than reloading.” The climax too plays out exactly like a boss battle. While the former section is a genuinely good sequence and one of the better action set-pieces in the movie, the latter is confusing and – dare I say it – surprisingly dull.
The last 15 minutes is where I wondered if the first-person view was actually lending anything to the film. The climactic battle might have actually been better in third-person – it was difficult to figure out where Henry was in space, if that makes sense, and there was just too much stuff going on for the audience to follow. While long-ass fight sequences in other media – the corridor fight from the first season of Daredevil and both the Raid films spring to mind – keep the audience engaged and invested in what’s going on, Hardcore Henry was exhausting at times. This might just be me, but my brain took a back-seat – there was loads of stuff going on but I just didn’t care. It got better towards the end (when the Don’t Stop Me Now started playing) – but it was an odd note to end a movie on.
Having said all of that, I think everyone should go and see this movie. Despite all my criticisms, I’m just impressed that this film got made in the first place. The director is clearly a very talented man, it has genuine heart and there simply isn’t anything else like this out there. It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination – but at least it’s something new and innovative in a world of remakes, reboots and franchise films.
Thank fuck it wasn’t in 3D though.