Wednesday, April 13, 2016

'Hardcore Henry' review

We've never seen a movie quite like Hardcore Henry before, and to be completely honest, I'm not sure that we'll ever seen one like it again. I said the same thing in regards to Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa a few months back, but in relation to this film, I mean it in a slightly different context. By all counts, Hardcore Henry has not been a success- it made a meager $5.1 million in its opening weekend and received a weak "C+" Cinemascore from audiences. It is dabbling with a technology that has never been used before in a major motion picture, and for some viewers, that tech is very off-putting. Filmed entirely with GoPro cameras from a first-person perspective, this movie puts you in the thick of the action in a way that could be nauseating and disorienting for plenty of audience members. Some of my friends saw the trailer and almost immediately said "There's no way that I can watch that movie."

To be completely honest, you kinda already know if you're going to be down for this movie or not. For those viewers ready to brave the revolutionary journey, you'll be rewarded with a hyper-violent extravaganza that is light on story and heavy on sheer brutality. Hardcore Henry is certainly one of the most ridiculously violent movies I've ever seen. It's so over-the-top that it almost becomes comedic. Blood spills by the gallon, limbs are pulled off, heads are torn in two, bodies are ripped apart, punches land with a thundering shock- the list goes on and on. Like a blow to the head, Hardcore Henry is a vicious, high-impact journey. The story is relatively simple. A man named Henry, who we never see, wakes up in a room with a woman who is said to be his wife. Unfortunately, there's an evil corporation led by the telepathic Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) after him. With the help of some newfound superpowers and a resourceful friend (Sharlto Copley), Henry will fight his way back to his wife.

All in all, it's relatively basic stuff. In the story department, this film isn't particularly ambitious. And with such a dazzling array of non-stop violence, the film can become a tad tedious. Over the course of the 96 minute runtime, Hardcore Henry is unremitting with its action, and it definitely takes a while to get accustomed to the formatting. Thankfully, director Ilya Naishuller proves that he's capable of far more than just a bit of the ol' ultra-violence. He injects Hardcore Henry with a weirdness that is simply irresistible and quite surprising. For example, there's an old-fashioned Broadway dance number halfway through this movie, on top of the bizarrely out-of-place scene where Henry rides on a horse. But in between those odd moments, there's also a savage massacre set to Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." So you get the best of both worlds.

But in all seriousness, Naishuller's vision is what holds this movie together. Without him, I'm not sure that this movie works. Sure, his screenplay isn't that great and the choppy directing gets distracting. However, what I'm talking about is something else entirely. An ordinary filmmaker would have taken this concept and fit it into a very specific, controlled template. And even though the story in Hardcore Henry is incredibly conventional, it's admirable how balls-out absurd this movie is. Naishuller doesn't necessarily have great control of character development or the camera, but he sure knows how to make a visual spectacle that works as an absolute blast of insanity.

Hardcore Henry's other secret weapon is Sharlto Copley, who plays Jimmy, the omnipresent guide for the movie's disoriented protagonist. Jimmy is one character, but he's actually a collection of different versions of himself. If you see the movie, you'll understand what I'm talking about. Like I said, weird. Nonetheless, Copley is masterful in just about every role, alternating between coked-out assassin and steely secret agent with ease. In many ways, Copley gives the perfect character performance in this film. He looks like he's having so much fun, whether he's playing a mohawk-wearing punk rocker or the real human at the heart of Jimmy. It's a dynamic, complex performance and whenever he was on screen, I was totally captivated.

The thing that defines Copley's performance is actually what defines the best aspect of the movie- it's unpredictable. Once again, I'm not talking about the plot. It's a lot of moving from Point A to Point B, with a few small little twists along the way. But during the movie itself, you literally never know what's going to happen. It's a cinematic video game, basically. A scene could be relatively calm, and then all of a sudden, some character gets their head blown off. Then the whole thing is thrown into chaos. Each scene carries this wild energy that grows and simmers before it just explodes into a melee of gleefully constructed violence. There were multiple times where I jumped out of my seat in sheer shock at what I had just seen. That's something that doesn't happen all that often.

With this unpredictability comes a pure adrenaline rush that is unparalleled by most movies. Each scene carries this raw, unadulterated, uncontrolled energy that manically pulsates through each frame. It's partially due to the style of the film and partially due to Naishuller's unique vision, but either way, it makes the film utterly engrossing. There is never a moment in Hardcore Henry where you, the audience member, feel like you can manage what is going on in the action. You're at the mercy of the filmmakers. And when you realize that, it's time to strap in for the ride.

Hardcore Henry isn't a great film by any stretch, but it is a great thrill ride, especially if you want something that is relentless, brutal and perfectly willing to beat you over the head with stunning violence. It never stops and it has a lot of terrific action sequences, but unfortunately, it never hits the next level. There's none of the beautiful cinematography or subtle theme work that made something like Mad Max: Fury Road a masterpiece. Hardcore Henry is like watching someone play an incredibly violent video game that they're really good at for 96 minutes. If that sounds appealing to you, or if you just like ridiculously gory films where people get killed in increasingly weird ways, take the ride. If not, stay far, far away.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.9/10)

Image Credits: Telegraph, Variety, Screen Rant, Joblo

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