I had the good fortune to see an advanced screening of Hardcore Henry last night. I had to rush there straight from work, and the only seats left available in the theater were in the front row. Thankfully, it was the furthest seats to the left of the front row, and the arm rests flipped up, so I could lean a bit to my side to get a better view of the screen.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the film when I sat down, though I was excited to watch the first film I’ve ever seen shot from the first-person perspective. My partner, who has played a lot of first-person shooter games, jokingly referred to the film as First Person Shooter: The Movie. They said they felt like they’ve played that game before, complete with the boss fight (though they admitted that this particular boss fight was pretty epic). To me, the film is much more than a video-game-turned-movie.
The pacing of the film was great and the cut-scenes were timed perfectly. It was almost like a dance, and kept you on the edge of your seat. I really enjoyed the score of the film, too (and the composer, Darya Charusha, actually has a bit role in the film as a biker dominatrix). The story was great, and had a lot of heart (which is a big deal for me since our protagonist never speaks) with multiple twists and turns. I laughed out loud quite a few times. The writer/director, Ilya Naishuller did a great job, especially since it is his second major project and feature film debut. I’m looking forward to seeing more from him in the future. I especially enjoyed the ending of the film.
If you’re a fan of parkour, there’s a lot of it in the film, and since it’s from a first-person perspective it’s really cool. I would never be able to do anything like it, so I enjoyed living vicariously through Henry the whole way through the film. The sets were used in amazing ways. The movie was filmed with GoPro cameras mounted on a team of stunt men who did all of the stunts. No CGI stunts were used in this film.
The villain of the film, Akan, is very smarmy and wonderful and Danila Kozlovsky did a great job making me hate the character. The main questions I still have after viewing the film are about this character. I would love to see a prequel about Akan and his backstory. He has some kind of power that isn’t actually explained in Hardcore Henry, but it’s pretty cool, and I want to learn more about him.
My favorite character from the film is Jimmy, played by Sharlto Copley and an absolute joy to watch. He’s the comic relief of the film and is sort of a Mercutio-like character. Jimmy has quite a few different faces, and Punk Rock Jimmy was my favorite. Copley is also an Executive Producer for the film. I definitely want to check out more from him.
I think the weakest link in the film is Henry’s wife, played by Haley Bennett. She’s the beautiful damsel in distress for the majority of the film and that is one of my least favorite tropes. Even when she’s on screen, it feels like she’s not really present, like she’s more of a prop than a catalyst.
Overall, the movie is a pretty fun way to spend a few hours, especially if you are a fan of films like Memento and Crank. It’s really easy to see why this film won the People’s Choice Award from the Midnight Madness program at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. (3.5 / 5 stars)
Content Warning: This film is pretty wobbly (it’s first person with a lot of shaky-cam) so if you get motion-sick this is probably not the film for you. There’s also a good bit of gore, and though the majority is very cartoonish, if you have a weak stomach you should probably skip this one. And if you have any problems with boobs on your screen, there’s a lot of nudity during one section of the film.