A double bill featuring two films from either end of the tonal spectrum. The first, an extremely violent, nonstop barrage of action and spectacle whereas the other is subtle, emotional and reserved, its action scenes are carefully placed and sparse.
Hardcore Henry is a sci-fi action film in which action leads to more action, interspersed with action, pausing occasionally for more action, shot from a first person perspective with GoPro cameras by debut Russian director Ilya Naishuller.
Just like in many a video game we wake up on an operating table, assuming the point of view of the titular silent protagonist. All we know is that we’ve been woken up by Henry’s wife and that our memory has been erased. Within minutes an endless stream of thugs and mercenaries are on our tail, led by the inexplicably superpowered Akan. Sharlto Copley of District 9, Chappie and Elysium shows up in a ‘come with me if you want to live’ type role, he chooses to help Henry in order to get retribution, since his own relationship with the villainous Akan has gone sour. I don’t think anyone’s watching for the plot though.
Hardcore Henry utterly embraces its gimmick and feels like a video game, adhering to many of the tropes of the medium e.g. parkour style movement, massive gun battles with an array of different weapons and, in the end, a big boss fight. For what it is, Hardcore Henry is effective. Most people will more than likely hate it, more than one person walked out of the screening I attended, but then again it’s not supposed to be for everyone. This bizarre action simulator will most definitely be someone, somewhere’s new favourite film. We are on the brink of mainstream virtual-reality and films like Hardcore Henry may just have a place in this revolution.
Whilst there isn’t much time for character development due to ninety-four of the films ninety-six minute run time being devoted to murder, Henry’s companion, Jimmy (Copley) manages to push the simple story along effectively and although the script is awkward at times, Copley’s trademark likability shines through, even through a dodgy British accent. The villain, who’s plan is basically to get Henry, is played by Danila Kozlovsky who hams it up deliciously, he has red eyes, platinum white hair and for some reason can use the Force. Considering the nature of the film, this works pretty well.
As an experience, Hardcore Henry is something new and fun. Basically, the more you like Call of Duty, the more you’re going to get out of this film. It’s immersive to a point, although the illusion is broken by having subtitles throughout certain scenes. For the most part the style and editing works to create a fast paced and exciting simulative experience, feeling more like a game or a theme park ride than a traditional film. Its audience will be niche but will also be as devout as it is small.
Midnight Special is another sci-fi film, in which a father attempts to shield his son from the government, the church and anybody else who has taken interest in his unique powers. Directed by Jeff Nichols and starring: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Egerton, Adam Driver and Jaeden Lieberher.
The film starts in media res, with news reports amongst other things leading us to believe that Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Egerton) have abducted the young boy, Alton (Lieberher). Whilst, with Hardcore Henry, the less said about the plot the better simply because nobody cares, the same should be said of Midnight Special because the slow unravelling of its plot is one of its strongest features. It competes for top spot only with the performances. Shannon portrays a drive only a father can bear with terrifying accuracy as Egerton and Dunst are emotionally conflicted as to what is the right thing to do.
Although the characters and their motives take time to come to light, with every second we are kept in the dark more momentum is picked up. Incredibly paced with a Spielbergian focus on character in the midst of extraordinary events. Midnight Special is reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, especially in its final scenes. For most of the film you may be kept in the dark but that only makes the light seem so much brighter.
It would be a ridiculous non-statement to say that Midnight Special is better than Hardcore Henry (it is, though). What is worth noting is that Midnight Special’s deliberation and reservation when it comes to action is what makes it so powerful. Hardcore Henry holds nothing back, so apart from a few genuinely eye widening moments, it’s ultimately boring. I would recommend both films, just to very different people.