The 1970s was a legendary and often gritty time for filmmaking. There were obviously the films of Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, among others. I think it may be safe to say that renowned screenwriter Paul Schrader should join the ranks because he also had his own fair slate of uncompromising cinematic works, even if it was only two from the late ’70s: 1978’s Blue Collar and his slight but gritty 1979 drama Hardcore, which is the subject of this review.
The great George C. Scott plays deeply religious Midwestern businessman Jake Van Horn, who lets his daughter Kristen go on a church trip to California. He later finds out that she disappeared during it. He hires unscrupulous L.A. detective Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) to help find her. He shows Jake a pornographic short film that she stars in, which immediately stuns and anger him (which you would if you were in his position). Discovering that Andy is a little too loose for him, Jake decides to look for Kristen himself. He poses as a porno film producer casting a new movie, to get new information, which he finds by beating up one of the men who was in the film with Kristen. Finally, he gets help from Niki (Season Hubley), a brassy prostitute and occasional porn actress who might have some information of her own.
Feeling that Jake may be the one to rescue her from a continuing life of degradation, she attaches herself to him. But she becomes fearful that once he finds Kristen that he will forget all about her. He promises that he won’t. In the end, he does find Kristen, who reveals that she ran away to escape him and his neglect but agrees to come home after all. As for Niki, the promises that Jake made to her can’t obviously be, so she’s left to continue her life on the streets. The end.
For a film called Hardcore, it is rather soft and less extreme than others during that era, and it doesn’t completely explore the real and often dangerous world of porn. But as a time capsule, it is still a brave piece of work, because Schrader was willing to go there, in his own way.
Of course, Scott is outstanding and at times unpredictable, even when he pretends to be a sleazy porn producer (which is implausible considering that no one is the least bit suspicious that he isn’t.) Despite that, you’re seeing a phenomenally great actor playing a very difficult role, but one he excels at with such effortless ease that you can’t imagine any other actor as Jae Van Horn. Boyle and Hubley are also great in their supporting roles, which they bring their own personalities too as well.
Like I said, Hardcore isn’t flawless. It doesn’t go as far it could have gone, but it is still a solid and nervy depiction of a now, nearly ancient period of entertainment.
Special features include audio commentaries, the first with Schrader; the second with film historians Eddy Friedfeld, Le Pfieffer, and Paul Scrabo. There are also trailers for the film itself, as well as those for Marathon Man, Serpico, Blue Collar, They Might Be Giants, and The Day of the Dolphin.