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A matter of perspective Hardcore Henry'

April 13, 2016
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First-person film interesting experiment, but nothing more

Cinematic experimentation can be a great thing. Trying out new methods and styles of filmmaking is the only way for the medium to continue advancing and evolving.

Evolution is actually a good concept to have in mind when considering 'Hardcore Henry,' the new film from writer-director Ilya Naishuller; some leaps forward turn out to be dead ends. There are always a lot of growing pains that come with trying to do something new and different; the truth is that new and different doesn't always mean better.

'Hardcore Henry' is a first-person action film. Basically, the intent is for the audience to experience the entire narrative through the eyes of the protagonist. It's absolutely an interesting experiment; first-person storytelling could lead to some dramatic changes in how movies are made. However, this particular example lacks engaging characters and compelling plot, which basically leaves you feeling like you just watched someone play a 'Call of Duty' knockoff for 90 minutes.

You are Henry (apparently played by a succession of GoPro-strapped stuntmen). You wake up under mysterious circumstances lacking both your memory and the ability to speak. You are rebuilt with crazy robot parts by Estelle (Haley Bennet, 'The Equalizer'), a scientist who is also apparently your wife.

Of course, it's never easy. The facility is invaded by sinister forces led by an insane telekinetic albino yes, really named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky, 'Vampire Academy') who wants to co-opt your abilities for his own nefarious purposes. And he's willing to use your wife to do so.

Your escape is abetted by an alleged friend of yours named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley, 'Chappie'), but mostly, you're left to stumble half-blind from place to place. Each new destination results in a heaping helping of violence followed immediately before brand-new information has you seeking another goal.

That might seem a bit light in terms of synopsis, but that's largely due to the fact that the movie is a bit light on plot. Not that that's surprising, considering that the film's origins spring from a pair of short films that Naishuller filmed for his band.

Anyone who has played a first-person shooter is well-versed in this particular formula quest followed by fight followed by quest followed by boss followed by quest followed by big bad. 'Hardcore Henry' never pays much more than lip service to the notion of actually telling a story. Instead, Naishuller and company seem perfectly content to let their stylistic concept stand on its own.

Unfortunately, that just isn't enough to create a worthwhile moviegoing experience. It sounds counterintuitive, but the first-person perspective actually makes a lot of the action more difficult to follow. And when you add in the fact that the constant motion is dizzying and headache-inducing, there are parts of 'Hardcore Henry' that, far from being enjoyable, are actually actively unpleasant to watch.

In terms of performance, welllet's just say quality acting isn't really a priority for most of these folks. Bennet is decent as scientist/wife Estelle, although it's a part that any number of actresses could easily play. Kozlovsky somehow makes a dangerously unstable albino who can move things with his mind sort of boring. It's kind of remarkable; despite the baseline insanity of the character, he never really comes off as all that interesting. Copley, it should be noted, is actually quite good throughout it's a surprisingly complex performance considering the film in which it is taking place (though spoilers won't allow me to tell you precisely why). Oh, and Tim Roth shows up in a couple of scenes, which is unexpected and a little weird, though he's perfectly fine.

Maybe the best way to look at the movie is as a byproduct of cinematic evolution. Progress is rarely smooth, coming instead in fits and starts; this film offers some glimpses at possible new directions for the action genre. It just never overcomes the lack of substantial plot and the odd disconnect between audience and protagonist.

Still, while 'Hardcore Henry' is definitely a misfire, at least it's an interesting one.

[2 out 5]

Last modified on Sunday, 17 April 2016 12:42

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