“Hardcore Henry” is a tough film to review. It’s not really a movie, it’s more of a ride you’d find at a weirdly warped Disneyland for adults or a video game on your local Xbox while you are looking down the barrel of M-16. It’s exciting, non-sensical, and nauseating all in the same stroke. This unique first person perspective is not new. Video game developers practically invented a new genre of gaming that has dominated households with games like that employ the first person perspective, like the popular “Call of Duty”. The movies got in on the fun. “Doom” starring “The Rock” devoted just a few minutes to this style to little effect. “Hardcore Henry” is given an entire film to expound on this idea. In the technologically advanced 2000’s where feelings replace substance, could this experience replace the way stories are traditionally told on screen?
As “Hardcore Henry” begins you are thrown directly into body of and looking through eyes of, Henry. Henry, just like the audience awakes to find a situation they know little about. Henry is floating in a pool water, his limbs are missing, and a beautiful young scientist, who is overseeing his recovery, informs him that she is his wife while replacing his limbs with cybernetic parts. Henry has little memory and during this ordeal they are interrupted by Akan, an intriguing and sadistic villain who not only has telekinetic powers, but who knows far more about Henry than Henry himself. Luckily, the beautiful young scientist helps Henry escape from the clutches of Akan and sets out on an adventure to recover his memory and rescue his wife.
“Hardcore Henry” has few stars. Tim Roth (The Hateful Eight) makes a cameo, but Sharlto Copley is its biggest star. He plays Jimmy, a mysterious man who seems to be aware of Henry’s situation and happens to be at every turn. Sharlto Copley’s performance is annoyingly over the top. He plays multiple characters and every moment he appears and then reappears you think you may get answers to all the confusion, chaos, and violence on screen, but few come. Danila Kozlovsky plays Akan, Akan is an intriguing villain. Akan captures your attention every moment he’s on screen, but sadly he too provides little in the way of propelling the story forward. Haley Bennett is Henry’s wife, Estelle. She plays the supposed damsel in distress well, but nothing here to point out that makes her performance stand out. We can’t recognize Henry’s performance because here in the first person perspective, you are Henry. The man who portrays Henry, I can only assume he’s a stuntman because on-screen he is put through all manner of action tropes. A brothel brawl, rappelling from a helicopter, and the high speed chase. These are but a few of the scenarios that fill the movie screen.
Trying to sum up “Hardcore Henry” is not easy. There are film and camera tricks that should be admired. Director, Ilya Naishuller should be commended for taking on this tough to film project. There within lies “Henry’s” biggest problem, too much novelty and not enough substance. The first person perspective is fun for the first 30 minutes then it just becomes a numbing and nauseating experience. I haven’t even mentioned, until now, that this movie’s Eastern European roots make the film feel grimy and extremely violent. This movie maybe a better fit for your living room TV. A smaller screen begat smaller expectations. This may just give Henry more of a cult hit status and find an audience who appreciates it. As of now this experiment of film making needs refinement. As an audience member it’s hard to emotionally invest in a protagonist you can’t see let alone who you are supposed to be. There is no doubt Henry is hardcore, but unfortunately I’m not sure enough people are ready to be as hardcore for Henry.