GENRE: Action, POV
DIRECTOR: Ilya Naishuller
WRITER: Ilya Naishuller
STARS: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Tim Roth
PLOT: A man wakes up in a Moscow lab to learn that he’s been brought back from the dead as a half-human, half-robot hybrid with no memory of his former life.
Far from being the first of its kind (first person, or POV films have been around for the last 70 years), Hardcore Henry bills itself as the first action film to be shot wholly in first person perspective, effectively making (or trying to make) the viewer the star of their own action film. Taking a tried and tested videogame formula to another level is surely another evolution in immersive cinema? Unfortunately not.
The film tells the story of Henry, a kind of mute Robocop/Jason Bourne who has woken from surgery and found most of his limbs removed and replaced by bionic appendages. As he battles through an endless stream of bad guys he uncovers the truth about himself and his ‘maker’ with the help of multiple characters played by the usually excellent Sharlito Copley.
As a more intimate way to engage the audience, Hardcore Henry fails on a huge scale. The overly erratic camera quickly becomes an annoyance and feels so unnatural that intimacy is lost within the first 15 minutes. There is a fundamental issue with first person film-making in that the camera can only represent the head, with eyes fixed straight ahead and this is not how our bodies work. If you are looking at someone and nod, you do this by moving your head whilst your eyes stay trained on theirs, but in the ‘Go-Pro’ world of film making this has to be represented by a slow panning up and down of the camera; try nodding in that style and you will see how unrealistic it is.
There are a few minor successes in the film but these are always quickly distinguished. The parkour scenes are often superfluous, but when running across beams and girders with the camera looking slightly down, you do get a sense of the danger that Henry is in. Sharlito Copley, as the closest thing to a lead actor, is similarly hit and miss as he plays a handful of different clones. His stiff upper-lip British army officer is the only bit of comedy that worked and his stoner/hippy is delivered well enough, but his London punk is an awful case of overacting and sits well with the rest of the cast. Add to this a generic euro-rock soundtrack and you have a pointless exercise in giving people what they don’t need and didn’t ask for in the first place.
Hardcore Henry was seen by many as a stepping stone to Call of Duty: The Movie, but beyond teenage boys (most of whom will be too young to see it at the cinema) I don’t really expect it to have much of an audience and I wouldn’t expect game companies like EA and Activision to be rushing into production any time soon. In reality it almost singlehandedly proves the folly of expecting a cinema audience to sit through 90 minutes of bewildering, stomach churning action and I for one hope it is the last we see of its kind. But then again, a Virtual Reality action movie on Oculus Rift, I’d try that for a dollar!