One of the most original action films in years that’s basically a gamer’s wet dream on the big screen.
When it comes to the realm of action films, originality is the least of anyone’s concern. With every action flick being a comic book movie or costing in the nine digits, or both, the genre has gotten rather stale. However, what we have here in Hardcore Henry is a low budget action film with an original story and great action from a groundbreaking perspective. Anyone that’s ever played a Call of Duty game, which at this point is just about everyone under 30, has probably thought the thrill of first person action needs to make its way to the big screen. This film is a thriller from beginning to end with off the wall action and excitement.
Going into this, I expected the first-person perspective to be rather gimmicky. However, it proved to be the perfect way to tell the story. We never really meet Henry, our protagonist, because we take the role of Henry in this innovative story telling experience as one would in a game. When Henry wakes up, he discovers he is brought back from death with the help of cybernetic appendages, essentially making him a cyborg. As he’s getting acclimated to life again and trying to recall any memories of the life his wife, who is the architect of his resurrection, is trying to help him remember, the crazy villain Akan enters and poses an imminent threat to Henry and his wife. His failed attempt to escape leads to his wife’s capture and Henry finds himself, with the aide of a mysterious stranger, on a journey to kill Akan and save his wife.
Ilya Naishuller, the innovative director and writer behind the film did a great job, especially considering the tiny budget and the fact the film was more or less entirely shot with a GoPro camera. He masterfully employed the type of storytelling mechanic that is commonly used in video games, where the protagonist doesn’t speak and the story is told through the voices of others. This perspective proves incredibly useful in this situation because the plot is filled with several twists and many harrowing scenarios, leaving you with the same sense of fear, adrenaline, thrill, and shock at each obstacle Henry runs into. Ilya also manages to avoid the many dangers that stems from telling a story from this perspective, such as creating a protagonist with no depth and telling a story that doesn’t quite come together. His feat in creating developing a rather fleshed out character in Henry without the use of words or facial expressions is an achievement that should not be glanced over.
The actor that plays Henry did a great job in that he was able to provide amazing stunt scenes as well as still as much humanity to the character as he could, given the limitations. However, it was Sharlto Copley who played Henry’s mysterious new found friend who carried this film. Not only did he provide crazy fun action scenes, but he managed to seamlessly play about a dozen diverse characters as well as essentially explain the entire story. Haley Bennett and Danila Kozlovsky delivered great performances in their roles as Henry’s wife and Akan, respectively. While Bennett’s performance was at times flat and unconvincing, by the end of the film, she managed to really do a great job. Kozlovsky was incredibly and wonderfully intense and playful as Akan in every scene, giving a very Joker-esque feel.
If this film was shot using conventional filmmaking techniques, it wouldn’t be very different from the rest of the action films we see today. It’d be like a low budget Bourne movie. However, by changing the perspective to first-person, we get an immersive and unique way to tell a story we’ve sort of seen before. If anything, this film is an innovative crowdpleaser that you cannot miss.