Starring Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky
I’m often asked what types of films I like. I usually explain that there isn’t a type, but a quest for something original, unique, different, that’s what impresses me. However, here is an example where a far reaching first time filmmaker, Ilya Naishuller (called the next Tarantino) debuts an entirely innovative and unconventional presentation, and yet you wonder if they ever stopped to question whether or not the audience would actually enjoy it. Like what The Blair Witch Project did for hand-held, Hardcore Henry is entirely shot with a GoPro camera. It’s a jarring effect that is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Out of about 100 attendees at a special screening, I counted at least 15 walkouts in the first thirty minutes. Nearly all who stayed, complained about headaches as they left the theater both impressed and a bit dizzy.
When Henry wakes up, his wife (Bennett) is attaching an arm and leg to his missing parts. He is suffering memory loss and has no voice. Turns out he and others are part of a human robotics experiment that have converted them into killing machines for Russian warlord Akan (Kozlovsky). After a few traumatic events, Henry finds his way to the ground, and begins his mission to save his wife with the help of Jimmy (Copley). Jimmy is a code name for many robots under the control of well, Jimmy, who is confined to a wheel chair at an offsite. Akan will stop at nothing to retrieve Henry, his most valuable weapon. This includes sending hundreds upon hundreds of solders for Henry to kill.
An orgy of bloodshed and brutality that’s never ending.
Getting accustom to the limited point of view (first person shooter) is the first hurdle for the viewer. Those familiar with this style of video game might not find it as difficult. In cinema, much of the participant’s immersion into whatever story they bought a ticket to, depends on the scope. The ability for cameras to capture and display different angles far and wide with various points of view. Here that is completely removed as we only see what Henry sees and nothing else. The majority of the film is a fight scene, likely the highest body count on record, not to mention the most violent film you will see on screen this year. With so much fighting, from all angles, often the viewer is unsure of whose hitting or stabbing who, the field of view is more often than not cluttered. There are so few calm moments or even dialogue, it’s just a solid string of action scenes that are brilliantly and seamlessly edited together.
The excessive action, as impressive as it is, becomes tedious, then excruciating. Naishuller’s vision becomes a narcissistic repetition of violence that completely overtakes what little narrative Hardcore Henry has left. What little communication is on screen comes in the form of sadistic humor, followed quickly by another action scene. It’s an orgy of bloodshed and brutality that’s never ending with an unlimited about of “goons” the antagonist releases. The viewer is visually assaulted for so long, what began as innovation quickly turns into resentment for how the technology is used and abused. I’m reminded of what the great Ian Malcom said, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”.