Imagine if “Far Cry” and “Crank” had a baby. The result would be “Hardcore Henry”, the first-person action film by director Ilya Naishuller. “Hardcore Henry” is packed with violence, blood, action, and humor, and it’s an absolute blast!
The “star” of “Hardcore Henry” is Henry, a man who has apparently been rebuilt (think “Six Million Dollar Man”) by his wife Estelle, played by Haley Bennett. Bennett gives a good performance that feels believable. The same thing could be said about Danila Koslovsky, who plays the films villain, Akan. The main difference is that Akan is a much more interesting character. He is a crazy, scary, power-hungry villain who would feel at home in a “Far Cry” game, or a Batman movie. Akan has some of the best lines in the film, and Koslovsky’s delivery is delightfully chilling.
The real star of the film, however, is Jimmy, played by Sharlto Copley. Jimmy is a fun, charismatic character. He steals the show every time he’s on screen, whether he’s blasting shotguns or dancing to show tunes. Copely is incredible, flawlessly navigating the wide range of acting necessary to make Jimmy shine.
Henry himself is essentially a non-character. The first-person point of view has the effect of making the audience the main character. In fact, all that is really seen of Henry are his arms and legs as he runs, jumps, crawls, climbs, and slides through this rollercoaster of action. Because of his bionic upgrades, Henry has nearly superhuman abilities that allow him to fight through waves of enemies. When the enemies temporarily dry up, he “parkours” his way forward, always working towards the goal of saving his wife. If this much movement sounds nauseating, unfortunately it can be. Rather than skip the movie, however, my advice is to get some Dramamine and buckle in, cause it’s worth it.
The plot of the film is uniquely influenced by the first-person point of view. Since the audience is effectively Henry, we only know what Henry knows. Which, for much of the film, is very little. It opens with Henry waking up in a lab. His wife gently reassures him as she attaches his new arm and leg, and then walks him into the next room. That’s when the action starts, and it barely lets up for the rest of the movie. Placed throughout the action are scraps that can be slowly pieced together to understand what’s going on. Rather than tell what’s happening, “Hardcore Henry” straps the audience in, and expects us to figure it out. To borrow a video game term, it doesn’t hold your hand.
The video game term is very appropriate, as “Hardcore Henry” was obviously inspired by the first-person shooter genre of video games. In fact, there were many nods to video games throughout the film. There’s a scene where Henry climbs a building, stands on a small ledge, and looks down at some generic enemies. Most gamers will have experienced this view a hundred times. Henry then continues climbing, and finds a conveniently open window. The gamer in me immediately recognized this as proof that he was going the right way. Other scenes have Henry peeking out from cover, looking through scopes, and gathering “loot” from enemies in the form of dropped weapons. One memorable scene even contains what can only be described as a boss battle.
“Hardcore Henry” is a truly insane ride. It’s an incredible film, but it is a genre film. It’s an action movie, with all the testosterone-fueled violence that designation implies. Many people will not like it because of that. But if you’re a fan of Jason Statham or “Call of Duty”, then pop a Dramamine, grab some popcorn, and buckle in. You’re gonna love it.