Directed by Ilya Naishuller
Written by Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, and Tim Roth
“Hardcore Henry” is an action film that brings with it an interesting gimmick: the movie is shot entirely from the first-person point of view. While the POV thing has been used before “Hardcore Henry,” this film takes the gimmick and expands it to the entire feature. Giving credit where credit is due, director Ilya Naishuller does create something that is a new, fresh, and experimental take on the action movie genre. However, the POV gimmick only goes so far. This film would make an interesting short, but as a feature, the gimmick quickly goes from exciting to stale.
“Hardcore Henry” clocks in at a standard feature length of 96 minutes, but after about 25 minutes I started to feel like “okay, this was a fun experiment, but it is time to move on.” There was a fantastic chase scene through Moscow, and a few of the action scenes were well done, but because the movie is 96 minutes of POV, the action scenes do start to blend creating a monotonous tone, which hurts the well-executed action scenes because these scenes get buried in the monotony. The scene that begins with the sniper, the chase through Moscow, and the climax sequence were all great. Look for those sequences while watching the movie.
The story of the film is virtually nonexistent; it shows up when the movie realizes that it needs to have a story, and the story ends up feeling underdeveloped. When it comes to a movie like “Hardcore Henry,” the film is about experiment rather than the story that the movie is attempting to tell. So, the lack of story is not necessarily a bad thing per se, but as an art form that uses visuals to construct a narrative the movie should, at least, have some strong narrative through the line.
“Hardcore Henery” also lacks characters. Not regarding people who populate the movie, but regarding character that actors create to fill the movie. The only thing that comes close to a character in the movie is the store brand Jesse Eisenberg playing the villain. The POV gimmick in the movie leaves no room for a fully developed protagonist.
The one thing that can be taken away from “Hardcore Henry” is that Hollywood is coming closer to cracking the elusive video game movie. “Hardcore Henry” feels like a video game. However, I felt like I would rather be at home playing a video game. That is the “uncanny valley” for the video game movie, being able to make a movie that feels like playing a video game, without making you feel you would rather be playing a video game.
If nothing else “Hardcore Henry” is worth seeing for the experiment in POV filmmaking, although I doubt it will go much further than this movie. As a side note, “Hardcore Henry” did use something that I consider my kryptonite: a spontaneous Cole Porter musical number and a killer use of a soundtrack.