Director: Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Andrei Dementiev, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth
Having seen the trailer for this movie, my feelings towards it were mixed. Sharlto Copley takes a starring role, which is always a draw, but I felt that the first person perspective in which the movie was shot was a gimmick that would not be sustainable for ninety minutes. Lo and behold, despite the filmmaker’s best efforts, the movie is a woeful failure on every conceivable level.
At this point I would usually describe the premise of the movie, however, after a number of weeks since seeing the film, I am still unsure exactly what it is actually about. The main character, whose eyes we see through, is some sort of half man-half bionic robot whose objectives throughout the film are unclear. He needs a battery for his heart; to what end I’ve no idea. Sharlto Copley’s character appears in various versions of himself and the main villain is seemingly, and inexplicably, blessed with the ways of the force.
This film is a mess from start to finish; a tangled web of bad ideas that do not marry together and worse, make no sense. Apologists for the film say that the narrative is not the main attraction; come for the unique shooting style instead. I agree, the narrative is not the draw for the film. I don’t think the narrative is the draw for any film. People are drawn to a movie because of who acts in it, who the director is and if it looks like fun. I have never heard anybody say “that looks like a really good story” when seeing a trailer. No, the draw of any movie is the surface; the special effects, the on-screen talent. The reason why the audience stays however is the narrative. As such, the fact that ‘Hardcore Henry’ lacks any sort of cohesive narrative only amplifies the horrible realisation that the filmmaking itself is fundamentally poor.
I did not engage with the characters, I didn’t find the action sequences exhilarating or the comedic parts funny. This film has the feel of an experiment; but like Jeff Goldblum in ‘Jurassic Park’, I kept thinking – they spent all this time asking if they could, they did not stop to ask whether they should. The film is clearly an ode to video games, in particular the first person shooter genre, and like the majority of games in that genre, the film sacrifices rationale storytelling for over the top action set pieces and off the wall ideas. This film is more Call of Duty than it is Half Life or Bioshock. But even with the Call of Duty games, you can still engage with the character you are playing because you are in control; you choose who to shoot, you choose which guns to use. ‘Hardcore Henry’ merely thrusts the audience into a similar viewpoint, but because we are not in control, we inevitably lose any engagement with the character, the story and the world we are asked to inhabit.
That which is fundamental to having the first person perspective work, is stripped from us. The traditional way of shooting allows the audience to project themselves onto the characters on screen. In ‘Hardcore Henry’, we are asked to be the character, and to be honest, I just didn’t want to.
The treatment of women in the film is so archaic and outdated; what’s worse is that the first person perspective adds a layer of voyeurism to misogyny. In a Michael Bay film, for example, at least I am passive in experiencing the misogyny; for ‘Hardcore Henry’ and its first person perspective, I am being forced to partake in it. It is an unforgivable and immoral aspect of the film that in all honesty is reason enough to hate it. I suppose there were a couple of scenes that were well choreographed and the violence adds a bit of intrigue, but for the majority I was just so bored. The film’s shooting style means that most of the shots look like they were filmed on a GoPro camera, and the lack of a cinematic experience really was the proverbial nail in the coffin.
It is clear that the filmmakers think this is a unique and one-off film, and it reeks of self indulgence because of it. The climactic sequence is played out to Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and you can almost hear the sound of palm on skin as each and every one of the filmmaking team pat themselves on the back. This subversive use of music and action has been done since time immemorial, and I just found it infuriating that using this piece of music for that scene was somehow “clever”. I mean, they used that music in the Trafford Centre adverts – you’re not pushing any boundaries here.
There is one musical sequence around half way through, and it was at that point that I was completely lost. I wish there was more positive things to say about the film; especially because of Sharlto Copley’s appearance. But even he can’t save it. As it is, this is an infuriating and self-aggrandising piece of work and does not deserve your attention. Avoid this film!