Stars: Sharlto Copley, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett, Danila Kozlovsky, Andrei Dementiev, Svetlana Ustinova, Darya Charusha, Oleg Poddubnyy | Written by Ilya Naishuller, Will Stewart | Directed by Ilya Naishuller
For years video games have clamuored to make the gaming experience more cinematic. Which is now the reason we have games like Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, The Last of Us, and Until Dawn – games that edge more towards the “interactive adventures” we were promised back in the full-motion video era of gaming (remember that?). But what if it was the other way round? What if films looked to video games for inspiration? Undoubtedly we’d have more movies like Hardcore Henry.
Shot completely from the hero’s perspective, a la FPS video games, Hardcore Henry stars you – the audience. You remember nothing. Mainly because you’ve just been brought back from the dead by your wife (Haley Bennett). She tells you that your name is Henry. Five minutes later, you are being shot at, your wife has been kidnapped, and you should probably go get her back. Who’s got her? His name’s Akan (Danila Kozlovsky); he’s a powerful telekinetic albino with an army of mercenaries, and a plan for world domination. You’re also in an unfamiliar city of Moscow, and everyone wants you dead. Everyone except for a mysterious British man called Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who doesn’t seem to be able to die. He may be on your side, but you aren’t sure. If you can survive the insanity, and solve the mystery, you might just discover your purpose and the truth behind your identity.
It takes a brave producer to put out a film like this. After all, as the empty cinema I sat in (and the critical drubbing the film has had in the mainstream press) can attest, this is certainly not a film for everyone. However, sometimes there are films that just resonate with you. Films that, despite their sheer ridiculousness or adverse critical reaction, somehow capture your imagination and feel like they were made for your sensibilities. For me it turns out that film is Hardcore Henry. Now I’ve never been a fan of first person shooters – well not since the era of Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament – mainly because I’m terrible at them when faced with competition with other online players. But when it’s a movie? Where I know I’m (I say I’m because this film puts the audience squarely in the lead) going to win in the face of adversity? THAT’S something I can get behind; that’s something I can really, really, enjoy; and I enjoyed the hell out of Hardcore Henry.
Given that this film is shot first-person, there is no lead actor to praise for the central performance – especially given that the character doesn’t say a single word throughout the film either. So it’s down to the rest of the cast to carry Hardcore Henry, and in particular its “other” hero, Jimmy, played by Sharlto Copley and the villain Akan, played in stunningly evil fashion by the oh-so-creepy Danila Kozlovsky. Copley is the real standout however, giving his character a myriad of difference looks, voices and styles – it’s like watching a one-man stage show in the middle of a movie; and who knew COpley had such a singing voice too!
Ultimately though it’s not just the style of filmmaking that marks out Hardcore Henry – it’s all aspect of the production: the cast, the story, the action, and it also has a superb soundtrack. A soundtrack that mixes old-school music from the likes of Queen, The Stranglers and even The Temptations, with more frentic rock tunes from the likes of Biting Elbows – who, it turns out, is also the band of this films director, Ilya Naishuller. It reminded me of the Deadpool soundtrack, in that both utilise music – no matter the genre or era it comes from – to further the on-screen action and help propel the story forward. How good is the soundtrack? Well it’s the first time, in years, where I have walked out of the cinema wanting to buy the soundtrack – in particular the closing song, For the Kill… The soundtrack is that good. And buy it I did – which means not only did Naishuller get my money for the film, he also got cash from me buying the song!
My only question surrounding the movie is when is Hardcore Henry coming to Playstation VR? Now that would be a ridiculously fun, if not totally apt, way to experience this FPS action flick!