An 18 certificate film with the word “Hardcore” in its title about a titular character who shoots his load over an endless parade of Muscle Marys does not sound like everyone’s cup of Horlicks. And it isn’t. Though not for the reasons I alluded to. Following on from the ground-breaking cinematic experiments of recent years such as the found footage of The Blair Witch Project, the continuous tracking shot of Birdman and the single location of Locke, director Ilya Naishuller (frontman for the Russian indie rock band Biting Elbows) has raised the bar by adopting the first person perspective of computer game shoot-‘em-ups to terrific but ultimately soulless effect. Think Kiss Kiss Bang Bang minus the smoochies and with more bullets per second than the final scene of Bonnie and Clyde.
The plot, what there is of it, isn’t really the problem – a stiff with missing limbs is brought back to life courtesy of cybernetics (the fusion of technology and tissue), but due to a malfunction of memory retention is hunted down by his Andy Warhol-meets-Kurt Cobain creator who is building an army of herculean robots to aid him on his quest for world domination. The performances, what there are of them, aren’t really the problem – though the titular Henry is mute, his conveyor belt of enemies are killed without so much as an “I say, dear chap” and one of the main characters Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) shapeshifts so much that he gives Tommy Cooper’s hat sketch a run for its money. And the first-person point-of-view, which bar a couple of scenes which bookend the film is used throughout, isn’t really the problem either – in fact, the director, his cinematographers, special effects team and stuntmen have done an amazing job of making the film look seamless, authentic and visceral.
What is the problem – and it is a biggie – is the violence which give or take a few moments of stillness or surrealism is relentless, bloody and by the end downright tiresome. Something which the creative team have tried to guard against by infusing proceedings with flashes of humour such as a flame-throwing assassin wearing “the gayest jacket I’ve ever seen”, a confusion of subtitles filling the screen when a brace of Russian dominatrices argue with their client, a brief but brilliant homage to Bonanza and the piece de resistance a Pythonesque song and dance routine of the Frank Sinatra classic “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” which almost, almost turns this 2 star disappointment into a bizarre but engaging 3 star crowd-pleaser. Ultimately, however, Hardcore Henry’s flaws far outweigh its plus points and like many of the cyborgs who shuffled off their mortal coils, by the end I wanted to gouge my bloody eyes out.
by Peter Callaghan