I tend to avoid seeing movies in the theater (I dislike people), but I wish I had gone to see Hardcore Henry on the big screen. Shot entirely from a first-person perspective, the level of immersion is like nothing we've seen outside of video games (an earlier [Celluloid Hero] reviewed Russian Ark, but that was a slow art piece, not a full-fledged action flick). Putting that concept into a movie was a risk, and at times felt more style-over-story, but still ended with a fun product.

We see the entire movie through the eyes of Henry. Things start off as we awaken in a tank of liquid, we see a beautiful blonde enter the room and start to explain that she's our wife, our body has been crippled and rebuilt with cybernetic enhancements, our memory erased, and now we have to get revenge against Akan, a creepy supervillain.

The action kicks in after just a few minutes of exposition, and almost never stops. Fist-fights, shoot-outs, parkour stunts, car chases, all done as though the viewer was actually doing it. At times I felt a bit dizzy, but once my brain adjusted everything was cool.

Check out the rig that the stuntman wore for the whole movie to keep up the first-person perspective! Imagine having to wear that thing while doing all the running and jumping and climbing and fighting.

"Hardcore Henry" - 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival
Mike Windle/Getty Images for SXSW

Outside of the visual, I do feel the need to warn you about a few aspects. Director/writer Ilya Naishuller is Russian; producer Timur Bekmambetov is Russian; because of this, about 97% of the cast is Russian, including the main villain Akan, played by Danila Kozlovsky. Kozlovsky, who I just realized was also in the awful Vampire Academy, either does not speak English as a first language, or made the choice to read his lines in an annoyingly cliche villainous way. Many of the characters just speak Russian (with subtitles) and I think it would have been better served to pick one and stick with it - either make everyone speak English (and get a better dialogue coach) or just keep everyone speaking their native tongue, which would have just added to the disorientation that Henry is going through. Not just to pick on the Russians, Sharlto Copley (of District 9 and Elysium and Chappie) is South African, so his accent is difficult to begin with. He play multiple characters so he changes through variants of British, and I actually had to rewind and throw Closed Captioning on for a few lines to understand what he was saying.

I always go through this when reviewing action movies; a lot of times, the story is cliche at best, irrelevant at worst, while the focus is on the stunts. Hardcore Henry was such a whirlwind that by the middle I actually forgot what the hell the plot was, but some unexpected twists at the end came out of nowhere and surprised me. The twist didn't fully redeem the muddy plot from earlier, but still bumped it up a point or so.

[Celluloid Hero] gives "Hardcore Henry" a 7 out of 10.




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