This really had a lot of potential. As articles by platforms like CNET and “Rolling Stone” pointed out, “Hardcore Henry” was heavily shot using the GoPro camera, and the film utilizes a first-person point-of-view. The film looks like a video game: imagine watching “Call of Duty” or any of the myriad of first-person video games out there, done as a feature film. Unfortunately, “Hardcore Henry” takes an interesting concept and extraordinarily promising filmmaking both to their breaking points.
Henry, as we find, is enhanced with cybernetic upgrades to the point where much of him is now technology. (The screen sometimes cuts in action to simulate the breaking up of his functioning.) He’s taken care of by Estelle (Haley Bennett) and reintegrated into living, but the action starts almost immediately as the facility they’re in is overrun by Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), who combines Kurt Cobain’s looks with a frenetic manner akin to, say, Jesse Eisenberg. After Henry and Estelle escape, Henry is forced to fend for himself, aided along the way by a dude named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley from District 9). And of course, much blood is spilled along the way.
When I say the film looks like a video game, I should also mention that it plays out like a video game. Being filmed on a GoPro means that we get endless shaky camera and disorienting action. Of course, incoherent action is a common affliction of modern action movies, but the action in this movie really can test your ability to handle action done in such a manner.
The film suffers from other problems as well. Peter Travers of “Rolling Stone” noted that the film “doesn’t add up to much.” It really doesn’t. I hate to sound like a broken record, but it’s really like a video game. That extends to essentials like plot and character development, in that there isn’t much of it. Also, the same CNET article has a section that sums up one of my problems with it as well: “The film can have a physical effect on viewers, and not just because of the over-the-top bloody violence or the juvenile humour. The constant motion can at times be a bit much…” That’s an understatement. The extreme shaky camera is nauseating at times, and it’s not done in an artful way either. I suppose it’s meant to emulate what it feels like to be in Henry’s shoes, but even this is taking it too far.
Not to say that there aren’t good points to this movie. The cast (which includes Tim Roth) does well under the circumstances, and Copley plays multiple characters quite well. In addition, there was just so much potential with the movie. The use of GoPro is daring and innovative, the first-person narrative is also innovative, and as articles in places like “Forbes” point out, the film was financed through Indiegogo (the closing credits acknowledge the donors). A wide-release film financed through an Internet website! Extraordinary!
Too bad this is what we ended up with. “Hardcore Henry” is perhaps best described as frustrating. You know what could’ve been. You see the potential of its technique. But if you’re not a fan of video games, violent action movies (there’s nudity in this as well, as a fair warning), or motion sickness, you know this movie isn’t for you.