Earl had no idea what he was getting into when we sat down to see Hardcore at TIFF. I hadn't told him anything about the plot, or that it starred the guy from District 9 and Chappie, or that it's the first ever first-person action movie. I supposed I could have warned him about that last thing, but then again that's why I chose to sit in the back.
Hardcore follows a hectic day in the life of Henry, who wakes up to find himself missing an arm and a leg. After being fitted with a couple of prosthetics, Henry's in the process of having his speech apparatus installed when bad guys storm the lab. One daring escape later, and Henry is on the run from a telekinetic megalomaniac. Henry's only ally is Jimmy, another crazy person, and with his guidance he navigates his explosive way through the day.
Hardcore is hardcore for so many reasons. It has the unrelenting pace of Taken, cranked up to eleven by virtue of the fact that everything is witnessed through Henry's eyes. All the running and gunning, all the fighting, all the disorienting violence is experienced first-hand. This is intensified continuity—Matthias Stork's chaos cinema—taken to the next level. The film, quite literally, puts the audience in the centre of the action in the same way found footage movies cast the viewer as the survivor of the horror show.
As the filmmakers explain, Hardcore's production was an experiment in filmmaking; they threw out the first two months' worth of footage. But they eventually found a solution for filming first-person action. Editing and finishing the movie was another challenge, one which had them racing against the clock. Hardcore was completed the day before its TIFF premier—and the credits still need to be tweaked to include all the Indiegogo backers.
Although Henry is the lead character, Jimmy is the star of the show. Appearing and disappearing seemingly at random, Jimmy is Henry's quest giver. He gives directives, telling Henry where to go and what to do, and even offers a short tutorial on how to use a grenade. Played with hilarity and zeal by Sharlto Copely, the impressive challenge of Jimmy's role is masterfully downplayed by Copely's incredible range as an actor.
Copley's amazing performance notwithstanding, Hardcore's ultimate achievement is its technical accomplishments. It is certainly not the first action movie to use first-person, Strange Days used the technique to great effect, but Hardcore is the only one to be exclusively told from the hero's POV. It's an unprecedented move, but not entirely surprising given the popularity of first-person genre film. The difference is Henry isn't holding a camera as he runs around the countryside—he is the camera. In the same way the gamer is the hero of the FPS, the audience is the protagonist of Hardcore. Like that sequence in Doom, only it lasts the whole movie and Henry never looks in the mirror to show off the effect.
Shortly after Hardcore's TIFF premier at Midnight Madness (a programming schedule that caters exclusively to genre film), director Ilya Naishuller flew to LA to broker a deal for distribution. It's the most expensive Midnight Madness deal ever made, and the film won the coveted Grolsh People's Choice Award. Suffice to say, Hardcore has achieved so much more than Naishuller and his team could ever dream; what began as an experiment in action storytelling and technique has turned into a career-making (or defining) tour-de-force. Heat-stopping action mixed with moments of humour and levity all set to a pounding soundtrack make Hardcore an outstanding addition to the action canon.
You can visit the Toronto After Dark Film Festival by clicking here