“HARDCORE” (TIFF Film Review)Movies/TV,News,Reviews Phil Brown
HARDCORE is a tricky movie to review. On the one hand, there’s no denying that it’s an extraordinary, ground-breaking achievement on a technical level, offering a cinematic rush that’s unlike anything that’s ever been seen before. On the other hand, beyond pure technique and visceral thrills, the flick is almost insultingly stupid and frequently poorly acted. However, if you can get past any hope of compelling characters or a meaningful storyline, there’s no denying that HARDCORE will knock your socks off as a pure thrill ride. You’ve just got to check your brain at the door or, better yet, remove it entirely.
The central gimmick in Russian director Illya Naishuller’s directorial debut is that it’s a goofball action flick filmed entirely from the first person perspective. Now, that’s been done before both in cheesy James Bond theme park simulators and in Naishuller’s music-video-turned-viral video THE STAMPEDE. There have even been some POV features like Robert Montgomery’s 1947 noir LADY IN THE LAKE or Gaspar Noe’s ENTER THE VOID. Yet, there’s never been anything quite like HARDCORE. Naishuller is going for a pure adrenaline rush from the first frame to the last and on that level alone, he certainly delivers.
So, our point-of-view is Henry, a freshly upgraded cyborg who awakens in the first scene to his wife (Haley Bennett) screwing on his fresh robofoot and explaining that he might not have his memories back yet, but he’s been turned into a supersoldier and is about to start his new life. Henry can’t speak, which is probably for the best. Just before he’s about to get his fresh voice implant, a white haired telekinetic psychopath (Danila Kozlovsky) shows up and screws things up. Suddenly Henry finds himself plummeting from a secret robo-sanctuary in the sky down to the streets where he faces wave after wave of bad guys trying to shut him down.
From a shaky POV perspective, Naishuller unleashes a barrage of seemingly every action trope and cliché you can imagine: shootouts, parkour, car chases, sword fights, fisticuffs, and torture. You name it and the movie does it in first person. Plus the always delightful Sharlto Copley pops up in a variety of roles for comedic relief.
There’s no denying that from on a technical and visceral level, Naishuller has delivered something pretty damn amazing. Aside from the occasional phoney CGI shot to smooth over gaps, the pure spectacle of the movie is jaw-dropping. Set pieces quite literally fly at the audience fast and furiously, each topping the last in terms of scale, violence, and lunacy. It would have been one thing to do a simple action story in POV, but Naishuller throws every ambitious and bloody trick he can think of at his camera and somehow manages to pull them all off. Watching the filmmaker leap from one insane cinematic conceit to the next is breathtaking and the impact undeniable. HARDCORE feels as much like a theme park ride as a movie, only with a hard R rating that would be inconceivable in any Disneyland.
Unfortunately, anytime Naishuller stops filleting bad guys long enough for a story to emerge, the whole thing falls apart. The story is pretty stupid from the start and only gets more nonsensical and less believable as time goes own. Attempts at naughty bro humor pretty well always fall flat and often feel downright misogynistic. It’s not easy to walk the satirical line that Neveldine/Taylor pulled off in the CRANK movies and HARDCORE is feature length proof of that.
Aside from Copley, who delivers a barrage of cartoonish performances, the acting is also really weak. Sure, it must be tough to deliver silly lines directly to the camera, but some of these turns are wooden enough to be laughable. In particular, Danila Kozlovsky can be downright horrible and given that he plays the big bad of this movie, that’s a major problem since he never offers much of a threat.
So, there are some massive and glaring flaws in HARDCORE and yet the achievement of the movie can’t be denied. Illya Naishuller attempted something ludicrously ambitious here and the fact that he delivered something not only watchable but this relentlessly intense and effective deserves to be commended. It’s unlikely that POV action will suddenly become a new genre, but given how well this sucker pummels audiences into gooey submission, it’s hard to imagine this will be the last one. Naishuller certainly establishes himself as a thrill ride manufacturer with talent; let’s just hope he hires someone else write his screenplay next time.