First Time Watch: Hardcore

By Christian DiMartino

From the premise of Hardcore alone, this film had me in its grip. Then, I saw the movie.

Paul Schrader’s Hardcore is a fascinating exploration of the lengths that one will go to out of anger, frustration, and confusion. In ways, the film reminds me a lot of Taken, minus the kidnapping, minus the prostitution (well, there is a bit of that), minus the action extravaganza. So, why Taken? I don’t know, it just sounded right. But Schrader’s film is one that held me in its grip from beginning to end. It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s mighty entertainment. What this says about my taste is kind of a mystery.

The legendary George C. Scott anchors this film beautifully as Jake VanDorn, a conservative midwest businessman and single father. VanDorn’s daughter goes off to some religious convention in California, and in a surprising and shocking (to anyone who doesn’t know the movie they’re watching), turn of events, she leaves the religious group and doesn’t return home. Bewildered, confused and upset, VanDorn hires an investigator (Peter Boyle) with the hopes of tracking her.

If VanDorn was bewildered by her sudden disappearance, he definitely isn’t ready for the next big revelation. Inspector Boyle doesn’t find her exact location, but he does discover what she’s up to. In a not-so-subtle way of breaking the news, VanDorn is invited to a movie screening room, and before him lies pornographic footage of his daughter. He is of course disturbed, screaming and begging for the footage to be turned off. It is then that VanDorn heads off to California for himself, and hunts the seedy streets of the California pornography world in search of his daughter.

Perhaps, at the time, only Schrader could’ve written and directed this film. This is the man who wrote Taxi Driver, which also featured teenage prostitution. Schrader also filmed a lot of this film, supposedly, in these seedy locations, much to Scott’s dismay (Scott hated the script for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia because of the language, which makes his appearance here even more shocking). Yet Schrader has this knack for capturing areas, locations, and professions, as he did in Taxi Driver, that most normal people wouldn’t dare travel nor involve themselves with. Which is what makes the George C. Scott character so interesting.

Here is a man who probably never in his wildest dreams would’ve imagined himself disguising himself as a porn director, conversing with prostitutes and walloping porn stars. Yet Schrader places this normal man in this situation because it would be difficult for anyone to picture themselves in his shoes. If your 15 year old daughter ran away to do porn, nobody would want to even imagine the thought, let alone the reaction. Schrader works wonders with this premise. He takes the idea, and he builds upon it, and he builds upon it.

The ending perhaps could have been a little better, mostly because while it’s also thoroughly engaging, it doesn’t really match the tone of the rest of the movie. No matter though. I love the style of this film, and the score by Jack Nitzsche, both of which, along with the directing and writing are pretty much first rate. The film just might belong to Scott though. While there is a lot to admire here, and solid performances all around, Scott pretty much carries this film on his shoulders, and he works wonders with it. It’s one of Scott’s finest performances, and certainly his most overlooked, in one of Schrader’s finest directorial hours. Masterpiece? Perhaps not, but it will be difficult to take your eyes off of it.

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