Movie Review: Hardcore Henry

Action film shot entirely with a GoPro camera has many noisy chases but little plot

Hardcore Henry
Directed by Ilya Naishuller
With Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth

If you are not a teenage fan of first-person shooter games, than Hardcore Henry might not be for you.

The entire film was shot from the point of view of the main character using a GoPro camera and chronicles a non-stop hour-and-a-half chase filled with countless corpses, wall-to-wall gunfire and explosions.

The audience never clearly sees the main character. Apparently several people wore the GoPro camera at different times, including the director, Ilya Naishuller.

As a technical accomplishment, Hardcore Henry deserves praise. The planning and choreography to pull off some of the scenes is incredible, as Henry goes from room to room shooting attackers often in one unbroken take.

It also shows that a GoPro camera, the kind used by drone operators and extreme sports participants, can be used to make a feature film.

But all this speed leaves little time for character development and plot. Anyone asking questions as to why all this shooting and mayhem is happening is left with most questions unresolved at the end.

The film, after some truly gruesome and violent opening credits, takes us to Henry while he is on an operating table having robotic limbs added to his body. He has no memory. A woman claiming to be his wife, Estelle (played by Haley Bennett), tells him he was in some sort of accident but all hell breaks loose before she can say exactly what it was.

From then on, watching the film is like watching a videogame running on autopilot. While running, Henry picks up guns and other items that may be useful to him. He goes from one location to the next, much like solving one level of a videogame and finding that hidden door that opens the next level.

Henry tracks down some clues but has no idea who to trust. Someone named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) pops up in various disguises to give him instructions and a smartphone that leads him from location to location.

Heavily armed henchmen are doing the bidding of a villain named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who has telekinetic powers. How he got them is never made clear.

Veteran actor Tim Roth turns up in small flashback, one of the few moments that is not part of the almost endless chase scene.
Of the cast, Sharlto Copley does the best at making a character out of very little. The South African actor is known for his work in District 9 and has been in a number of other action films including Elysium and The A-Team. He gives a slightly unreal edge to Jimmy, making him seem more like a game character rather than a real person.

Danila Kozlovsky on the other hand goes a bit to far overboard with his performance, making the poorly written Akan a bit of a distraction.

Female roles in action films typically are not that developed, and Haley Bennett has little chance to make an impression beyond the standard femme fatale. Other characters just turn up long enough to be shot at.

The film takes place in Moscow and does take viewers and a breathtaking tour of the city's seamier side, with scenes in abandoned buildings, a high-class brothel and public housing developments.

This is not the first film to be shot almost entirely from the point of view of the main character. Lady in the Lake, a crime film from 1947 based on a Raymond Chandler film, also used the technique. But the gimmick has seldom been replicated, as most audience members found it had the opposite effect as intended, and didn't make the viewer more involved in the story.

Likewise, it is hard to get really involved in Henry's tale beyond marveling at the production design and the narrow escapes.
That a film shot entirely with a miniature sports camera can hold the audience's interest at all is an accomplishment of sorts, but a stronger story would have helped enormously.

According to the end credits of Hardcore Henry, someplace in the film you can see a poster for Lady in the Lake.

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