When a film presents a gimmick, be it the supposed single take that helped to win Birdman Best Picture at the Academy Awards or using the very same technique to illuminate the screen in the pulsating, German thriller Victoria, to justify such a technique, it has to serve the narrative. However, where Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry is concerned, which is shot through the perspective of the protagonist – like a first person shooter video game, or Peep Show (with added savagery) – the gimmick outweighs the production values, and such innovation grows tedious in parts, for once that unique factor has worn off, there is little to grasp hold of.
A film for the video game generation, Naishuller’s debut in the director’s chair focuses in on Henry, who we embody, but never see – for we are channeling his vision, awoken as he is – by his wife (Haley Bennett), only to be informed he has been resurrected from death, with no memory (aside from a brief flashback to his father, played by Tom Roth). On a mission to discover who he really is, he becomes sidetracked when hunted down by the nefarious scientist Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), and his ambition turns to one of survival, which is a task made somewhat easier with the persistent arrival of the eccentric Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) – who is always on hand to save Henry’s life, and yet his identity remains just as much of a mystery as his own.
Hardcore Henry is, as the title suggests, unrelentingly violent, and yet is presented in truly overstated fashion, and is by no means attempting to work as a reflection of reality – even complete with surrealistic science fiction elements to further enhance this notion. It remains electrifying and fun in parts, but regrettably struggles to sustain such captivation, becoming tedious in parts, never quite hitting the same heights that Gareth Evans’ The Raid did in that particular department, for example.
It’s not just the gun fights that Henry (and therefore we) become embroiled in though, as some of the more breathtaking elements derive from sequences such as the protagonist climbing a building and almost falling off – and in that respect the film takes on the form of a cheap, theme park simulator. Which, while undoubtedly entertaining for a while, does hit a point where you just need to get off and have a glass of water.