FILM REVIEW – HARDCORE HENRY. With Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett . Written and directed by Ilya Naishuller. Rated R for non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use. 96 minutes.
Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (“Nightwatch,” “Daywatch”) may be Russia’s answer to French director/producer Luc Besson. On top of his own films (which includes the upcoming remake of “Ben-Hur”), he’s producing films by other filmmakers that feature relentless action and his over-the-top style.
With HARDCORE HENRY, he gives Ilya Naishuller his feature debut in what is a relentless chase film. The gimmick is that we never see the title character. The whole movie is shot from his perspective, with the camera showing what he sees. (This was previously done in the 1947 film “The Lady in the Lake,” a poster for which pops up here.)
Henry wakes up to discover that he’s been badly injured but his missing arm and leg have been replaced by robotic parts. He can’t remember anything but Estelle (Haley Bennett), who is installing the missing pieces, says she’s his wife, and even replaces his wedding ring. Just before his voice can be restored Akan (Danila Koslovsky) attacks. Akan, who is buidling a cyborg army, is soon in hot pursuit of Henry while holding Estelle hostage.
The entire movie consists of Henry chasing or being chased in and around Moscow. His only ally is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who appears in a number of guises and seems to be killed only to reappear. It’s not until late in the film that everything is explained and so we have no choice but to just go along for the ride. Like Henry, we don’t have all the information, but we know that Akan must be stopped and Estelle rescued.
What we get is non-stop action. People’s heads are blown off. Cars blow up. You’ll lose count of the shootings and stabbings. Akan has telekinetic powers that are never explained. And Henry just keeps moving, whether it’s evading his attacker or taking the initiative. There’s a video game aspect to it, however you’ll want to stick with it to see the mystery resolved.
Visually, it’s all very exciting, although most of the actors are either playing stick figures or, as in the case of Koslovsky and Bennett, two-dimentional characters. South African actor Sharlto Copley (best known for “District 9”) gets the most to do because Jimmy turns out to be a man of many identities and Copley has a field day running the gamut.
“Hardcore Henry” gives Naishuller a canvas to give us unremitting and visceral action. For what it is, the movie is never a dull moment. It will be interesting to see what Naishuller can do when given the opportunity for a more complex story.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.