Exploring and embracing revolutionary and essential new circumstances can be a frightening prospect in many people’s lives, as they don’t know the potential danger or change in prospective the incident may bring. Hesitantly accepting the need to explore those radical situation, despite the potential of receiving harrowing reactions and consequences, is powerfully explored in producer Timur Bekmambetov’s new progressive sci-fi film, ‘Hardcore Henry.’
The intriguing movie, which STX Entertainment is set to distribute in theaters nationwide on Friday, was produced in part by Bekmambetov and his production company, Bazelevs Company. ‘Hardcore Henry’ puts a daring new spin on the action genre, as the story is uniquely told entirely through the mute title character’s first-person point-of-view. The producer encouraged musician Ilya Naishuller to make his feature film writing and directorial debuts with the adventure movie, after he helmed the music video for one of the songs from his Moscow-based indie rock band, Biting Elbows, titled ‘Bad Motherf*cker,’ which proved to be a hit.
Billed as the first action film in which the audience sees everything through the eyes of the protagonist, ‘Hardcore Henry,’ which expands the concept first presented in ‘Bad Motherf*cker,’ follows the title character as he tries to recover his lost memories and fights his brutal new nemesis at the same time. The movie’s formula, which Bekmambetov noted initially appeared to be a difficult one to adapt from a music video into a full-length feature, ultimately proved to be successful. After the film premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and became one of the highest-profile projects there, it won the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award. The sci-fi film has also already garnered critical praise, ahead of its wide theatrical release.
‘Hardcore Henry’ follows the title anti-hero as he awakens in a high-tech scientific laboratory that’s floating in the sky above Moscow. He’s greeted by his wife, Estelle (Haley Bennet), an engineer who explains to him that his memory has been erased, and he’s no longer able to speak. But she’s determined to help him recover, as she repeatedly insists that she still loves him. After also explaining to him that he has lost some of his limbs before being transferred to the lab, she connects robotic parts to his body that transform him into a cyborg super-soldier.
As Estelle determinedly continues to repair Henry, he’s immediately plunged into a explosive battle between rebel scientist Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) and his nemesis, the malicious Akan (Danila Kozlovsky). The latter is determined to use both his telekinetic powers and Henry’s physical abilities to achieve world domination. In order to motivate Henry to use his new strengths and abilities to aid him in accomplishing his goal, he abducts Estelle, for whom the title character has begun to form a connection with.
As Henry embarks on his mission to rescue Estelle from Akan, the two men, who are forming a rivalry and hatred, track each other during a violent chase from downtown Moscow to a secret laboratory in dense woodland outside the city. Realizing that he’s constantly being chased by Akan and his mercenaries, and doesn’t have chance of surviving on his own, Henry seeks help from Jimmy, who he realizes has become his sole reliable ally. Also reflecting on powerful guidance he received from his father (Tim Roth) when he was a child, which slowly begins to infiltrate Henry’s memory in brief glimpses, the anti-hero will stop at nothing in achieving his goal of stopping his new enemy and saving his wife.
Bekmambetov generously took the time recently to talk about producing ‘Hardcore Henry’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the producer discussed how he became interested in turning Biting Elbows’ hit music video for ‘Bad Motherf*cker’ into a movie, after seeing the distinct technique and film language the director and his banded developed and created. After contacting Naishuller on social media, Bekmambetov convinced the idea behind the video could intriguingly be adapted into a film. The producer also mentioned how important the choreography of the camera operators and actors were, as the cameras not only had to convey Henry’s emotions and movements, but also capture the events that were occurring around him.
ShockYa (SY): You produced the new action adventure film, ‘Hardcore Henry,’ which follows the title character after his wife is kidnapped by Akan, a powerful warlord with an army of mercenaries, and a plan for world domination. What was the genesis of the story for the sci-fi film? What interested you in producing this type of movie?
Timur Bekmambetov (TB): Well, the idea for the film came about when I saw a music video that Ilya and his band released three years ago. I was amazed by the technique and film language he developed and created. He’s also Russian, and I contacted him through social media. That makes it much easier to find and connect with people these days. After we spoke, I understood that I would be the happiest man in the world to see this kind of movie on the big screen.
SY: What was your working relationship like with Ilya Naishuller, who you just mentioned, as he wrote, directed and co-produced the action movie with you? What was the process of collaborating with him on the story and overall production?
TB: It was good, as it’s a very innovative project. In terms of the collaboration, I was trying to help Ilya develop his film language. The idea was very simple; we gave him as much help on the production as possible, while also giving him as much freedom as he could carry. But freedom and responsibility need to be balanced.
The project was very innovative, so it took three years to make it. It required a lot of research and development, starting with the technical issues. It was difficult to find a way to shoot it, since we decided to shoot with cameras that were secured on helmets that the camera operators wore. Everything, from figuring out how the camera would work to how to cut the film, was a challenge.
One of the biggest issues was how to convince people, including distributors, that we could adapt the music video into a movie. People couldn’t believe that this concept could be turned into a movie. They thought that it was a fun video for five minutes. But Ilya found a way to tell the very emotional and unique story in an organic language, which was important.
SY: ‘Hardcore Henry’ features a diverse cast, including Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett and Tim Roth. Did you closely work with Ilya to cast the actors in the sci-fi film?
TB: I did help cast the film. I was friends with Sharlto Copley for many years, so I suggested to Ilya that he would perfect to play the role of Jimmy. So they met and liked each other, and Sharlto then signed onto the film.
SY: The film was shot entirely from first-person perspective of the title character What was the process of filming the movie through Henry’s eyes?
TB: Well, the camera operator and the main character are the same person. So it was important to find the balance between those two roles. Every movement and pose of the character of Henry was shown through the choreography; you understand the character because of his movement and the choreography through the camera. At the same time, the camera is still a camera, and it should capture the events that are happening around him.
SY: With ‘Hardcore Henry’ being shot almost entirely on GoPro cameras that were placed on the camera operators’ helmets, like you just mentioned, what was the process of collaborating with the film’s actors and cinematographers, to safely create and capture action sequences while you were filming?
TB: Well, in general, the story was the base of the film, and all of the innovative ideas served the emotional core of the story. It was an important decision that Ilya made from the beginning to tell the story through these new and innovative filming methods.
SY: ‘Hardcore Henry’s violence is in part driven by the characters’ emotions and humor, and the motivations behind it aren’t unfounded. Why do you think infusing those sentiments and moments of comedy into this type of action film that’s driven by its stunts?
TB: Including the humor is an interesting approach to making this type of film. It follows this man as he discovers himself and who he is. The story also follows him as he protects his love interest. I think many women dream of having a man like Henry, who would do anything to protect his love.
SY: With the action film taking the protagonist around Moscow as he tries to find ways to protect and save himself against Akan, what was the process of finding the locations around the city where you filmed the movie?
TB: I think it was very cool that Ilya grounded this fantastic story in contemporary Russia. There’s a great contrast between the very grounded and dramatic Russian reality. It’s also an important contrast in this sci-fi world and contemporary environment. The streets, cars and characters are very ordinary, so it’s surprising how they work with the world that Ilya created for this story.
The film has the same effect as the movies ‘Night Watch’ and ‘Day Watch,’ which I wrote and directed 10 years ago. They’re about vampires in Moscow, and they take a similar approach in merging a very grounded reality in a fantastic world.
SY: You have produced, written and directed several action, thriller and horror films that utilize unique visual approaches and technologies to tell their stories. Why are you drawn to making these types of genre films in such visually distinct ways?
TB: We live in a time where a lot of things are changing. So as a filmmaker, I’m trying to reflect that constant change. For example, a year ago, I produced a movie called ‘Unfriend,’ and its story takes place completely on a computer screen. So it was a 90-minute experience that follows its characters completely in the computer world.
Today’s first-person point-of-view, and setting ‘Unfriended’ completely on the computer screen, are both based on our new experiences. Many people are spending at least 30 percent of their time in front of a computer screen, like what is shown in ‘Unfriended.’ So it’s interesting to reflect on our new behaviors and experiences in films.
SY: ‘Hardcore Henry’ had its U.S. Premiere during the Headliners Section at last month’s SXSW. What was your experience of bringing the sci-fi action film to the festival in Austin, Texas, and how did audiences react to the movie there?
TB: We were surprised by how excited audiences were to see the film at the festival. It was a unique experience, as people were laughing, screaming and jumping as they were watching the film. But that’s why we make these types of movies, so SXSW was the perfect place to premiere the film. It’s not only a film festival, it’s also a music and game festival, which is the perfect place to show the type of movie we made.
SY: Speaking of the music part of the festival, how important do you feel the score is for this type of action-thriller film? Do you feel the music balances the visual aspects of the movie, including the stunts?
TB: Well, Ilya is also a musician, so music is an important part of his feelings and thinking. But I was surprised how specific and smart he was in picking the right tracks for the film. His wife, Darya Charusha, wrote the soundtrack for the film, which is very unique. The music is the soul of the movie, and I hope people will also enjoy the soundtrack.
SY: Besides producing ‘Hardcore Henry,’ do you have any other upcoming films, whether directing and/or producing, that you can discuss?
TB: I’m finishing the movie ‘Ben-Hur,’ which I’m directing, and it will be released this August through Paramount. My company is also producing several other movies, including ‘Liked,’ which is an edgy, R-rated teenage comedy. The movie also takes place on a computer screen.
Watch the official trailer for ‘Hardcore Henry’ below.
Written by: Karen Benardello