We all know by now (or at least we should) that Henry Rollins always adds a welcome spark of energy to any movie. Big-budget studio fare or tiny little indie production, from good films to bad, when you see Henry Rollins show up, you can expect at least one welcome dash of fast-talkin’, ass-kickin’ no-bullshit attitude. Although previously known as the front-man for the punk band Black Flag, Mr. Rollins went from “gimmick guest star” to “colorful cameo” before turning into a legitimately skilled and consistently entertaining character actor.
And while Henry Rollins clearly has the look, the style, and the attitude of a bare-knuckled tough guy, he’s also shown a good deal of versatility over the years. So how does the man fare as the lead actor in an indie film that aims to combine horror, mystery, dark comedy, and film noir into one cohesive whole? Pretty damn well, if it’s me you’re asking. While Rollins’ performance is excellent throughout all of He Never Died, the true surprise here is writer/director Jason Krawczyk and his fascinating, funny, and consistently entertaining movie.
He Never Died is about an aimless, anonymous man who simply cannot expire, and while immortality may sound pretty great on paper, it quickly becomes clear that anti-heroic “Jack” has been around long enough to have seen it all, and most of it was bad. Mired in a mind-numbing rut of eternal routine, Jack sees his unhappy existence interrupted by the arrival of an estranged teenage daughter, and it’s this unexpected, unwelcome relationship that leads to all sorts of unpleasant misadventures on the city streets.
It’s not just that He Never Died manages to combine a half-dozen disparate sub-genres into one cohesive (and entertaining) whole; it’s that, thanks mainly to Rollins’ superlative performance and Krawczyk’s darkly funny screenplay, He Never Died is a virtually hypnotic combination of film noir, character study, crime story, and surprisingly effective horror.
He Never Died also gets a lot of mileage from the mysterious nature of Jack’s condition. At one point we assume he’s a cannibal; a bit later he seems to display some decidedly vampiric behavior. All we know for sure about Jack is that A) he cannot be killed, B) he seems to attract the sleaziest sort of underworld troublemakers, C) his stoic demeanor can only hold out for so long, and D) low-rent criminals should really learn to not mess with this man.
The mysteries of Jack’s past and the dour realities of his present provide more than enough components to tell a cool genre story, but it’s the arrival of Jack’s estranged daughter Andrea (Jordan Todosey) that gives He Never Died an emotional hook that elevates the film in numerous intangible ways. There seems to be a calm decency to Jack, but of course there also seems to be a giant volcano of rage bubbling just just beneath the surface. The man is barely even bothered by gun-toting street thugs, many of whom he destroys without even breaking a sweat, but once you mess with a man’s child, well, that’s when the gloves come off.
To say much more would spoil some of the fun, and I had a lot of fun with this movie. He Never Died is a cool, confident, frequently sarcastic, and unexpectedly accomplished piece of work that’d probably still work pretty well with a different actor in the lead role, but then we’d be missing out on the best work of Henry Rollins’ career.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 burritos