Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Schrader|
|Produced by||Buzz Feitshans|
|Written by||Paul Schrader|
|Starring||George C. Scott|
|Music by||Jack Nitzsche|
|Edited by||Tom Rolf|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|February 9, 1979 (USA)|
Hardcore is a 1979 American crime drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader and starring George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Ilah Davis and Season Hubley. The story concerns a father searching for his daughter, who has vanished only to appear in a pornographic film. Writer-director Schrader had previously written the screenplay for Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, and both films share a theme of exploring an unseen subculture.
Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) is a prosperous local businessman in Grand Rapids, Michigan who has strong Calvinist convictions. A single parent, Van Dorn is the father of a seemingly quiet, conservative teenage girl, Kristen (Ilah Davis), who inexplicably disappears when she goes on a church-sponsored trip to Bellflower, California. Andy Mast (Peter Boyle), a strange private investigator from Los Angeles, is then hired to find her, eventually turning up an 8mm stag film of Van Dorn's daughter with two young men.
After Van Dorn views the film, he suspects that his daughter was kidnapped and persuaded to join California's porn underworld. His quest to rescue her takes him on an odyssey through this sleazy adult subculture.
With no results from the PI, the Los Angeles Police Department, or even from Los Angeles' sex shopkeepers and "rap parlor" women, a desperate Van Dorn ends up posing as a pornography producer in the Los Angeles Free Press, hoping to find information about his daughter. A scraggly actor named "Jism Jim", who was in the film with Kristen, knows where she might be and sends him to a sometime porn actress/hooker named Niki (Season Hubley). Van Dorn hires Niki to accompany him on the search for Kristen. Chasing a rumor that Kristen was now filming porn in Mexico, their uneasy alliance moves from Los Angeles to San Diego, gradually warming up to each other: Niki feels protected by Van Dorn because he is a man who doesn't see her as merely a sex object, and he is able to speak openly to her about his deepest feelings, such as his wife leaving him. The unlikely pair ends in San Francisco where Van Dorn finds that Kristen may be in the hands of Ratan, a very dangerous S & M porn player who deals in the world of "snuff movies". Niki, who had previously begun to think Van Dorn will help her to escape life on the streets, now finds herself fearful of being forgotten once he locates his daughter at all-alive or dead. As a result, she initially refuses to divulge the address of a porn industry player who is a link to Ratan. Van Dorn loses his temper and strikes her to get her to reveal the information.
Van Dorn finds the player, "Tod", in a bondage house and forces Tod to tell him where Ratan hangs out. Van Dorn and Mast track Ratan to a nightclub where he and Kristen are observing a live sex show. When Van Dorn confronts Ratan, Kristen flees and Ratan slashes Van Dorn with a knife. Mast shoots and kills Ratan. Van Dorn tells Kristen he'll take her home from the people he believes forced her into pornography. However, she responds with anger, stating that she entered porn of her own free will as a way to rebel against her conservative upbringing and now felt loved and appreciated in a way that the emotionally distant Van Dorn never offered. Despondent and tearful, Van Dorn asks her if she really wants him to leave her alone but she acknowledges that she does not. As the two prepare to return home, Van Dorn spots Niki. He speaks to her, starting to make a token offer of gratitude but it's clear to both that it's just as she feared - her usefulness to him, and thus their relationship, is now over. She walks away, resigned to continuing her life on the streets.
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Warren Beatty originally wanted to play the lead, but, according to director Paul Schrader, "he wouldn't take me as a director. And in his version, it would have been his wife, not his daughter, who split for the Coast. No good. I held out. I turned down a very large sum of money. I went after [George C.] Scott and I got him. One of the greatest actors in the world."
Despite arguing that the climax lapses into action film cliches, Roger Ebert nonetheless gave the movie a four-out-of-four star review for its "moments of pure revelation," particularly in the scenes between Scott and Hubley.Gene Siskel gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "both a rich film of ideas and of strikingly real characters." He thought George C. Scott gave "one of his finest performances" in the film.Variety called it "a very good film" and predicted that no matter what each individual audience member's attitudes toward pornography and religion were, "nobody's going to be bored."Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote in a mixed review that Schrader "demonstrates an extraordinary sensitivity to the realities of the American heritage that are seldom even thought about on screen, much less dramatized. His characters are complex. Unfortunately the melodrama seldom matches their complexity. It is blunt, clumsy -- melodrama that seems not to reflect life but the ways lives are led in the movies."Pauline Kael of The New Yorker was negative, explaining that Taxi Driver worked because "the protagonist, Travis Bickle, had a fear and hatred of sex so feverishly sensual that we experienced his tensions, his explosiveness. But in 'Hardcore' Jake feels no lust, so there's no enticement--and no contest. The Dutch Reformation Church has won the battle for his soul before the film's first frame." She added that "there something a little batty about the way Jake strides through hell swinging his fists, like a Calvinist John Wayne."Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called the film "strong but finally disappointing stuff," explaining, "Quite apart from the plot concoctions that leave reality so far behind, the exasperation of 'Hardcore' is that the confrontation has never quite come off. The daughter, whose feelings are presumably crucial to an understanding of the story, is never more than a cipher and a symbol." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "absorbing but unsatisfying," finding that the reconciliation at the end "violates too much of what we've been led to believe."
Hardcore was previously on VHS during the 1980s from Columbia Pictures Home Video and later RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video. In the 1990s, during that decade's 1970s nostalgia, it was reissued on Columbia TriStar Home Video. In 2004 the film received a DVD release from Sony Pictures.
In August 2016 the film received a U.S. Release on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in a limited edition (3000 copies). The disc featured a commentary track from Writer/Director Paul Schrader as well as one featuring critics Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo. It is also now available on streaming video and digital download through Amazon.com, Apple's iTunes Store, Vudu and other online mediums.