14 April 2016

Hardcore Henry review

Hardcore Henry isn't the first film to experiment with the idea of the audience being put directly in the shoes of a character within the movie. It's not even really a rare technique - there has been a lot of found-footage films over the years that for the most part replicate the effect that Hardcore Henry is going for, which means that the question of "Can a film work when told from a first-person perspective?" was answered long before Hardcore Henry ever hit theatres. Yes, it can, and we've seen that it can multiple times before.

Which makes Hardcore Henry's failure as a film all the more difficult to swallow. This isn't an experiment in film-making that just so happens to have failed, it's an indulgent attempt to one-up the music video on which director Ilya Naishuller made a name for himself. In fact, it seems generous to really refer to Hardcore Henry as a film - lacking all the things that make a film a film (such as a story, characters, structure, themes), Hardcore Henry is instead nothing more than a 90-minute long music video, and I do mean that in the most derogatory way possible.

I usually write a small plot synopsis for films I review, but I haven't done that here as it would mean putting more thought and effort into the story than the film does. I've thrown around the phrase "an excuse for action scenes" before, but Hardcore Henry seems to think of that as an ideal to strive towards rather than a pitfall to avoid - it's relentlessly stupid throughout, giving no thought to ever really establishing anything more than a cursory reason to move us from one action scene to the next.

The result, of course, is that at no point do you ever feel invested in what is happening on screen, an elementary mistake that really shouldn't be being made anymore by directors of any calibre. It's no coincidence that the best action films also have memorable characters and interesting stories, and Hardcore Henry's lack of either stop it from ever being anything more than a lengthy reel of admittedly impressive stunts.

Or at least what I think were impressive stunts. The final nail in Hardcore Henry's coffin comes from the simple fact that I could never shake the feeling that it would be a more entertaining film without the first-person perspective. It'd still be a bad film, of course (maybe even more so, given the sheer "who gives a shit" nature of the plot, which might stand out more in a traditionally shot film), but the ability to actual see the stunts undertaken by Henry would have at least made the action entertaining. Seeing someone jump from a motorbike onto a van before falling off and crawling underneath sounds exciting - having to see that from the persons viewpoint is just disorientating. It turns out that framing and editing are important skills to have when making a good action film - who knew?

Beyond the hyper-kinetic body language of Henry himself (which is surprisingly funny) and the sheer enthusiasm that Sharlto Copley brings to his recurring role, Hardcore Henry is nothing more than a boring and uninspired film that simply isn't worth your time, and that's without even getting into the gratuitous sexism on display throughout. If this truly were the first film to utilise a first-person perspective, I'd be willing to write off the whole technique - as it is, Hardcore Henry instead just finds itself the latest in a long list of films that rely on a gimmick in order to try and mask their deficiencies. I know it's a tired phrase, but I'm going to use it anyway because it will never be as applicable as it is here - watching Hardcore Henry really is the equivalent of watching someone else play a bad video game.

Only it will never be your turn to play.

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