Movie Review: Hardcore Henry

From Russian director Ilya Naishuller, the violent and nonsensical Hardcore Henry crawled out of the shadows of superhero flicks and cute romantic comedies to deliver something refreshing and wickedly entertaining -- at the same time completely dry of much narrative. Shot in first-person, using a slew of Go-Pro cameras and one brutal stuntman, this memorable action flick may not have much to offer underneath its visceral gunplay, but it did manage to provoke my interest with its innovative cinematography -- as well as the oddball Sharlto Copley in the cast. Jolting and gory throughout, Hardcore Henry will surely not be the best film of the year, but it could be one of the coolest. 

What would do if you woke up in a murky Moscow laboratory, being rehabilitated by a beautiful woman who claimed she was your wife? Would you trust her? What would you do if you were now a half-human, half-robotic hybrid, sent out into a world you have no knowledge of, tasked with saving your wife from a madman? Would you run and hide, or would you fight back? Set against a violent army of pure rage, you must decide who you will trust, and who you will kill -- all leading up to a grisly bloodbath of adrenaline and deception. Embarking on a journey of brutal revenge and heart-racing rage, with your loyal combatant Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) at your side, the only way to stay alive is to kick matter how hardcore it gets.   

A poor man's Mad Max: Fury Road, with even less of a plot and few investing characters to show off, Hardcore Henry looked like a brilliant mix of The Raid, Die Hard, Quentin Tarantino, and Neill Blomkamp. An odd mix for sure, with grisly violence at its forefront and a quirky Sharlto Copley (sort of) leading a nearly unrecognizable cast of foreign (and American) actors, this unique and unrelenting shoot-em-up delivered possibly one of the coolest action films we've seen this year. Shown through the eyes of a silent man-of-action, set on a course of gory violence to get back his wife, and offering up an odd yet intriguing plot of crazy clones and telepathic madmen, Hardcore Henry was ultimately a very enjoyable time at the theater, surprisingly leaving me wanting more. While it may not be as sharp-witted as Tarantino's works or as science-fiction-focused as Blomkamp's, this ultra-violent and purely psychedelic adventure was definitely worth it, especially for fans of first-person video games.

One of the most defining things about this film had to be -- as I mentioned before -- its unique use of Go-Pro technology in order to deliver a superb first-person adventure. Something only the craziest director would attempt, director Ilya Naishuller -- made famous by his equally-hardcore music videos for the band Biting Elbows -- managed to make the audience the main character, bringing all the bloody action right to your face. Nearly flawless from a cinematography point-of-view -- aside from its threat of motion sickness -- Hardcore Henry managed to keep the thrills alive, even when the plot was lacking. Innovative and fast-paced, films like Hardcore Henry could be the future of filmmaking, and a future I wouldn't be completely hesitant of. Even if they may lack the storytelling props of award-winning screenwriters, directors like Naishuller could definitely bring something refreshing to the big screen with films like this.

While he may have stunned me more with his excellent cinematography and action sequences, another interesting element Naishuller brought to the screen was the film's bizarre cast. While the actress who plays Henry's wife, Estelle (Haley Bennett), doesn't offer much to the film other than a pretty face you're "supposed" to feel sympathy for, the remainder of the lead cast was quite an uncanny bunch. From Sharlto Copley's mimicking inventor/soldier/stoner/hermit to Danila Kozlovsky's slithering antagonist, the motley crew of psychopaths that encountered Henry along the way were some of the many highlights of the film. While their characters might not be fleshed out at all, leaving their origins to the imagination of the already-puking audience, they do offer up some pretty decent performances among all the nonsensical violence.

One of the most memorable performances had to be from Mr. Sharlto Copley. A fan of Copley since I first saw him in the 2010 remake of the A-Team series, where he played a psychopathic chopper pilot suffering from PTSD, I was happily surprised to see him pop up in this unusual action flick. Known for his often-peculiar roles in such Neill Blomkamp films as 2009's District 9 and 2013's Elysium, I wasn't expecting any less insanity from the actor in a film like this. Delivering a collectively brilliant yet highly freakish performance as Jimmy, the mysterious ally to Henry as he embarks on his revenge plot, Copley evolved from the ordinary -- yet slightly off -- combatant he was shown to be in the trailer into a full-blown lunatic of more than a few personas. Playing a quirky inventor who has designed a handful of cyborg clones of himself in order to fight the incoming army aiming to kill Henry, Copley's drugged-up and highly ambiguous character was both a thrill and a frightening curiosity to watch die and die again throughout this bloodfest of a movie.

Can't forget about the brief -- yet highly motivational -- cameo by Tim Roth
Overall, while it had a nearly transparent plot of underdeveloped characters and gore-fueled excitement, Hardcore Henry definitely wasn't the worst time I've had in a theater. Entertaining in its camera work and amusingly violent in its progression, the film packed in just enough thrills and odd characters to keep me satisfied. In the end, if it was the last thing on TV, I'd definitely sit through one-and-a-half more hours of the fluid and fascinating action of this film a second time around.

I gave this film a 6 out of 10 for its dynamic action sequences and intuitive cinematography from a brilliant new director, its flawed yet highly enjoyable characters (at least two of them), and its radical revenge plot that -- even in its bleak and clichéd final product -- was ultimately worth seeing on the silver screen.                   

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