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Hardcore Henry: Mindless mayhem

Making his feature debut, writer/director Ilya Naishuller, heretofore best known as the frontman of the Russian rock band Biting Elbows, certainly brings a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility to Hardcore Henry (originally filmed under the title Hardcore). It’s truly an adrenaline rush, and its energy rarely flags. Those viewers looking for nuance, depth or any semblance of realism are, however, forewarned. You won’t find it here.

Counting among its many inspirations Luc Besson, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, the Crank films and Nintendo, Hardcore Henry is a “first-person” action film as seen through the eyes of Henry and through the lens of the state-of-the-art Go Pro Hero 3 camera. It’s like watching a big-screen video game, which may well ensure its cult status among the worldwide legion of gamers – and its attentiongetting style could well mean bigger (and louder?) projects for Naishuller.

Sharlto Copley is billed as playing the title role, who awakens in an amnesiac state and learns he has literally been blown apart and re-built (replete with some high-tech modifications) by Estelle (Haley Bennett), an attractive scientist and – possibly – a figure from Henry’s past.

Henry promptly makes his escape and embarks on an existential journey (sort of) to find himself, punctured frequently by bursts of violence and outbursts of black comedy. Along the way, when he’s not running, jumping, shooting or fighting – all of which he realizes he’s quite good at – he encounters a bevy of characters, several also played by Copley, making Hardcore Henry something of a tour-deforce for the actor.

Except for Henry, no one else much registers. Frankly, most of them don’t live long enough to make much of an impact except smashed against the wall or on the ground. The story involves telekinesis, conspiracies, bloodshed, and gonzo action. Best not to ask too many (if any) questions and savor, as long as one can, the film’s visual flair.

Bennett periodically reappears as Estelle, who veers from hapless heroine to femme fatale as is required by the story. Tim Roth cameos as Henry’s father, in a role that likely required mere hours of his time.

The “first-person” gimmick isn’t entirely new. “Found-footage” films, of which there are too many, are likewise taken from a camera’s perspective, and in 1947, Robert Montgomery directed and starred in The Lady in the Lake, an adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel filmed entirely from the perspective of private eye Philip Marlowe. There’s even a reference here, although like much of Hardcore Henry it’s none too subtle. !

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