Directed By: Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett
Tag line: "First they made him dangerous. Then they made him mad"
Trivia: Crowdfunding was used to get additional funds during post-production
From a stylistic standpoint, Hardcore Henry is in a class by itself. Inspired by first-person shooter videogames, writer / director Ilya Naishuller makes us, the audience, the star of his movie.
Yes, Hardcore Henry, a 2015 action film produced in Russia, is shot entirely from a first-person perspective, and thanks to a number of GoPro cameras, which were attached to some very daring stuntmen, what we see from that vantage point is equal parts harrowing and exhilarating.
As the movie opens, the title character, Henry, is lying in a tank of water in what looks to be a laboratory, situated on an airship floating high above Moscow. When he finally comes to, Henry is greeted by a pretty scientist named Estelle (Haley Bennett), who tells him that she’s his wife (aside from being unable to speak, Henry has also lost his memory). What’s more, Henry is now a full-fledged cyborg, with high-tech limb replacements and plenty of other modifications that have made him better than ever.
As Estelle and her associates work to restore Henry’s voice, the lab is attacked by heavily-armed mercenaries loyal to Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), a deranged Russian millionaire with telekinetic powers who wants to take possession of Henry. Before he can do so, however, Estelle and Henry climb into an escape pod and make their way to the city below. Unfortunately for them, Akan’s men are everywhere and shortly after their pod crash-lands in the middle of a busy highway, Estelle is taken prisoner and Henry is chased into a nearby parking lot. It’s at this point that our hero meets Jimmy (Sharito Copley), a mysterious individual who, for reasons unknown, agrees to help Henry retrieve his wife. Of course, defeating Akan and his small army is easier said than done, but once Henry realizes just how powerful he truly is, he becomes a one-man wrecking machine!
Aside from the brief introduction aboard the airship, Hardcore Henry is wall-to-wall action, and is guaranteed to get your pulse pounding (one scene in particular, where Henry, riding a motorbike, attacks a fleet of vehicles belonging to Akan is one of the most thrilling sequences I’ve seen in a while). And while the movie has its share of CGI, there are moments when the stuntmen portraying Henry (by some accounts, as many as 10 took a turn playing him) wow us with their death-defying feats; early on, Henry scales the side of a building and, after shooting it out with a few dozen henchmen, chases a guy across a rooftop.
Along with the excitement, Hardcore Henry also presents us with some mysteries to solve, the most intriguing of which centers on his new friend Jimmy (who appears to be immortal). All this, plus a cameo by Tim Roth (as Henry’s father), a rocking soundtrack, and a hyper-chaotic finale, do their part to make Hardcore Henry a kick-ass motion picture experience.
That said, Hardcore Henry is not for everyone. First of all, it’s incredibly gory; the opening title sequence alone features violent images, all playing out in slow-motion, that are tough to watch, and things only get bloodier from there on out. Also, if the shaky cam in 1999’s The Blair Witch Project made you nauseous, this film will likely put you in the hospital (the camera shakes so wildly at times that it’s difficult to make out what’s going on).
Ultimately, I hate to steer you away from Hardcore Henry; it truly is an exceptional film. But if copious amounts of blood and guts aren’t your thing, or you’re prone to motion sickness, then this movie, regardless of how unique it may be, is one you should definitely avoid.
Everyone else should check it out.