Seven months prior a movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival that caught my eye. Originally titled Hardcore the film boasted to be the very first to be almost completely shot from a first person perspective from start to finish. I was immediately interested in the film as I really enjoy cinematography from the visual perspective of the main character and an action film that was completely shot in such a way was one I dearly wanted to see. Half a year later and now titled Hardcore Henry the film was finally released but is it the revolutionary style of film making it said it was back in September?
The story for Hardcore Henry takes a back seat to the action and cinematography for the most part but otherwise is rather decent. The story follows the titular Henry as he’s brought back to life as a cyborg from some unnamed incident by his scientist wife Estelle. However, just as soon as he’s brought back he and Estelle are attacked by Akan, a deranged telepathic villain bent on capturing or killing Henry. Estelle is captured but Henry manages to escape and with the help of a mysterious man named Jimmy Henry sets out to save his wife. And that’s pretty much it, rather typical and simplistic stuff for a such a revolutionary film. However I will say this: Going in to Hardcore Henry I was concerned that the film would choose style over substance and it would be nothing but action scene following action scene. That sounds fun and all but believe me I’ve seen enough action films in my time to know that’s all action and no story is boring and not worth coming back to. Thankfully this wasn’t the case with Hardcore Henry. Though having action galore it still had the brains to know when to stop, take a breath and allow Jimmy to exposit and develop what little story we have and in doing so we learn some interesting things about Henry and how he came to be as well as some other interesting science fiction aspects. What also helps is the film’s well developed sense of humor which comes about through musical cues, brief but awkward scenarios, Henry’s silent film espque delivery and general moments of over the top lunacy. When this film is funny it’s really funny. This combined with the film allowing Jimmy to build on certain aspects make the story a little more engaging then it should have been and helps give it more of an identity along with it’s cinematography.
The characters for Hardcore Henry are pretty good but underdeveloped in some cases
There is something of a problem with our main hero Henry. The problem is that he doesn’t speak or have much of a personality. Granted the lack of speech does lead to many good jokes and through hand movements we know what Henry wants and what he’s feeling however making Henry speechless is a bit of a misstep on the filmmaker’s part. I understand that they’re trying to go for a “the audience is the hero” type of character but honestly that is very difficult as many people can clearly not identify with Henry, being a white male of course, and thus the “you’re the hero” approach just doesn’t work.
Jimmy is a very likable character or characters as it were. It’s a bit confusing at first but there are multiple Jimmy’s with multiple identities and personalities which allows for different types of humor along the way. Jimmy is initially likable not just for his humor but because he’s such a helpful character but as the film progresses Jimmy becomes more and more of an interesting and well developed character.
Akan, though not in the film as much as he should be, is a fun and enjoyable villain. Akan’s main purpose throughout the film is just to show up and briefly give Henry grief and does it all in a very over the top manner, but despite this he still manages to come off as vicious and intimidating.
Estelle is, unfortunately, a very bland character for most of the film. She serves a typical damsel in distress and mostly has no character traits outside of that, until the very end of course.
Acting for Hardcore Henry is very enjoyable
Sharlto Copley manages to steal the whole movie as Jimmy and his multiple personalities. Each personality allows Copley to try different forms of humor as well as show how versatile he can be. One moment he’s a vulgar soccer hooligan the next he’s a polite and calculating Colonel. There’s even a spectacular and unexpected scene where Copley quite literally becomes a one man musical number. Without a doubt Copley’s performance(s) as Jimmy is his best yet.
Danila Kozlovsky gives a very amusing performance as Akan. To say that he chews the scenery would be a gross understatement. Rather he outright devours it giving a performance similar to that of Javier Bardem in Skyfall but more crass and hilariously ridiculous.
Haley Bennett is unfortunately just there as Estelle. She isn’t given much to do and is taken out of the film all too quickly until her reappearance later on where she briefly gives a relatively fine performance.
Not one man played Henry but rather a team of ten stuntmen including director Ilya Naishuller. Each did tremendously well with their non vocal acting as well as all the incredibly insane things they had to do to get the perfect shot.
Lastly and most important are the action scenes and cinematography. The first person perspective for Hardcore Henry does work for the most part. It does allow the film to be more immersive, it makes such simple things as running down a street seem new and interesting and it can make the action more exciting. The action in a whole is creative and fun with many action scenes going on for a good amount of time and having varied moments of stylized shootouts and destruction. The third act is where the finest action is and in the end Hardcore Henry truly is the exciting, edge of your seat action many have said it is. Unfortunately all is not perfect. Many action scenes, mostly in the first act, are very difficult to follow and when it comes to a hand to hand fight the camera is very shaky. The cinematography gets better as the film goes on but with a little more polish this could have been even better.
Final Thoughts: Hardcore Henry is a very entertaining and funny film with a style of film making that’s fresh and works for the most part, numerous well made action scenes, a decent story, some good characters and memorable acing. It’s unfortunate that the story is too simplistic even with it’s more outrageous moments and the in the first act the cinematography is too shaky. Otherwise Hardcore Henry is still an entertaining film that accomplished what it set out to do: Try something different and hope more new things follow in it’s ilk.