Vol. 9, No. 14 – April 13 – April 26, 2016 – Movie Review

Hardcore Henry/3 Palm Trees
By Eduardo Victoria/[email protected]

Video games have been adapting cinematic vernacular for some time now, so it’s only fitting that films like Hardcore Henry appropriate the medium’s unique perspective to push the bounds of cinematic immersion. Filmed entirely in first person POV, what director Ilya Naishuller’s pulled off with his directorial debut is nothing short of breathtaking, appealing to those well-versed in the FPS genre (think sci-fi Call of Duty), while also standing on its own as a full-frontal assault of freewheeling lunacy.

We awake with Henry in a laboratory as cybernetic implants and limbs are being attached to his body. He doesn’t remember anything, but the scientist working on him is his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett). She mentions that he’s been virtually brought back from death, and that his synthetic body parts are the only things keeping him alive – they’ve also given him newfound strength and abilities. Before Henry can gain his composure, a warlord named Akan (Danila Kozlovsky) breaks into the lab, takes Henry’s wife and sends him on a desperate hunt through the streets of Russia. As Henry searches for the only person he cares about, he uncovers a giant conspiracy involving biomechanical soldiers and world domination.

Though the film and its vengeance angle aren’t anything new, it’s Naishuller’s understanding of video game language and his ability to transpose it to film that makes everything so fun. Smartly utilizing a simple A-B plot, story and execution work in tandem with one another, illustrating exactly what makes this type of narrative and first person perspective so satisfying.

Unfolding through a series of progressively outrageous fetch quests, there’s high-flying action spilling in and out of high class brothels, public streets, highways, and dilapidated warehouses. As the limbs rip off, bones crunch and people are set on fire, Naishuller slowly doles out our anti-hero’s true identity, keeping things fresh with a surplus of twists. It’s impressive how Naishuller manages to continually reinvent an endless hail of gunfire and keep things in perpetual motion, using Henry’s constantly shifting surroundings to his advantage and a host of villainous cannon fodder with differing skill sets.

Needless to say, nothing is sacred and no stone is left unturned – cybernetic soldiers, clones, colorful characters and even a love story round out the relentless barrage of sound and fury. It goes without saying that in a film like this, the most important performances come from cinematographers Pasha Kapinos, Vsevolod Kaptur and Fedor Lyass. Each shooting the action and story with GoPro rigs, the three are masterful architects of chaos, knowing how to use their cameras to frame each daring scene in a way that puts us right alongside the demented disorder.

The other show stealer is Sharlto Copley, who is a straight up chameleon. I don’t want to ruin the nature of his character, but it’s not what you expect, and pretty much solidifies him as one of this generation’s brightest character actors. Since he’s almost always by Henry’s side, he’s frequently the center of attention, and thus, the true lead of the film. As he transforms throughout, he fully commits to the insanity of his role and further helps to sell the film’s manic energy – even if the film weren’t crazy enough on its own, I’d see it just for him.

Thanks to a spry story, chaotic visuals and commitment to full-bore insanity, Hardcore Henry goes for broke, relishing in excess and dragging us tooth and claw into the mind of a madman. Of course, this film isn’t going to be for everyone – it’s nauseating, perverse and furiously aggressive, but it’s also those very qualities that make it so great. Already one of this year’s benchmarks for pure anarchy, this is one crowd-pleasing mixture of ballistic action and sci-fi mythos. I already can’t wait to see it again.

Rated R. 96 minutes. Now playing at Cinemark Downtown 10.

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