Hardcore Henry (Nalshuller; 2015)

Before I start actually writing about this week’s movie, I’m making an announcement about this blog.  This blog was always meant to be a temporary thing, as I’ve intended since the start of the year to get a YouTube movie review channel up and going.  As of today, I have all the pieces in place to get that channel started except for the practice associated with putting an episode together at least once a week.  I have not yet decided if I’m going to keep writing this blog, or move entirely over to YouTube, but as of now I’m thinking that writing here will be a good method of getting my thoughts together for the video review.  So, if you like what I’ve been saying here, check out Shaun’s Reviews on YouTube very, very soon – like before the end of this week soon – and continue to follow what I have to say.  And, thank you for following me here, there, or just reading or viewing the occasional review here or there, I appreciate it all.

Roger Ebert once famously and controversially said that video games aren’t, and could never be, art.  When he said this, he was thinking of game like Pac Man, I can only guess, and had never experienced modern video games with narratives and images that can put movies to shame, so I have to wonder if he had lived to see Hardcore Henry what he would have made of it.  I’m guessing he would hate it, but he’d probably have to either recant his statement or say that movies are moving to a place where they are no longer art.  Well, this one, at least, though many “live action” movies are also more computer generated images than reality, as well.

Hardcore Henry unashamedly and uncompromisingly inspired by video games.  While the trailers made this clear, on seeing the film you can immediately see just how much the creators of the film knew exactly what it was they were making.  The only part of the protagonist you ever see are his hands and feet, he is unable to speak (they do explain this away early on), and every single second of the film aside from the credits is seen from Henry’s point of view.  There are some minor cuts here and there, but it almost takes place in real time, as well.  That’s just the protagonist.  If you can think of a video game cliche’, Nalshuller and crew probably did, as well, and it made its way into Hardcore Henry at some point or another.

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If the camera panned up just a bit, you’d see the question mark floating over my head.

Obviously, the biggest difference between a video game and Hardcore Henry, though, is that with Hardcore Henry you are merely watching.  You aren’t making any decisions or testing your hand-eye coordination in any way. Most people would have a hard time coming up with something less interesting than watching another person play a video game unless they have some reason to be invested in the game, and there is no reason coming into this film blindly that you would be invested.  Hardcore Henry, however, manages to avoid the pitfalls that makes watching someone else play a game dull.  There are no load times here, no saving and having to go back, no travelling from place to place to speak to bartenders and cops.  Hardcore Henry is from beginning to end action, whether that action be a car chase, parkuor pursuits (say that a few time quickly), or shoot outs barely a second ever goes by without intense pacing.

The performances here are, for the most part, bad to mediocre, particularly the perfomance by Danila Kozlovsky as the villain Akan who is somehow both cartoonish and boring at the same time, and Haley Bennett as Estella, the protagonist’s wife, is also very dull.  Sharito Copley, though, as Jimmy, gives us a quite fantastic character who manages to mix funny, badass, original, and touching into one excellent performance.  The performance that most deserves mention, though, is Henry.  Henry is “you”, the audience member, and so is never seen, never heard from, but the fact that you see out of his eyes the entire time means that whomever did this filming was performing parkour, driving cars, jumping out of planes, and every manner of action film standbys while wearing a camera on their face, and still acting enough that you can see hands and arms doing what they need to and always aimed in the right direction to catch what’s going on around him.  It does make for some very chaotic and choppy viewing at times, but I was surprised at how few those times were all things considered.

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They told me there’d be days like this at bad guy school.

Hardcore Henry is not a film I’d recommend to everyone, but it is quite a bit better than it would seem on the surface it has any right to be.  There is nothing enlightening here, no lessons to ponder, no complex plot to unravel, it’s just straightforward constant balls-to-the-wall action from start to finish.  For this reason, I hope this is an experiment that ends here, because it will only work so many times, but it did work this time I’m happy to say.

Rating:  6.2 out of 10

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