Hardcore (aka The Hardcore Life)

Dir: Paul Schrader, 1979


Cinema in the 1970’s was, often, used as political and social forum. With their gritty and grimy feel, movies explicitly depicted the harsh realities of American life and Paul Schrader was the unofficial king.

Beginning with his critically acclaimed script for the Martin Scorsese directed Taxi Driver, Schrader kicked cinema up the arse and ruled supreme with his “honest” films.

Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) is a businessman and Calvinist. When his daughter goes missing, Van Dorn searches for her and stumbles upon the realisation that she is appearing in 8mm pornographic films.

Masquerading as a porn producer, Van Dorn immerses himself in the underground porn circuit, gathering information as to where she is.

Films about the porn world always focus on the sleazy, underside of the industry. Depicting flea pits exhibiting 8mm loops and a less than reputable community, Hollywood knows that perpetuating a stereotype makes for good entertainment.

To a degree, Hardcore is, rather, formulaic. It walks the same path as every other film about porn; the porn industry is all about S&M and snuff films. Cliched and, in many ways, unoriginal, Schrader’s film rises above the familiarities and presents a film of sheer enjoyment that is both gripping and thrilling.

Hardcore is played out on a dour note that adds an element of realism or authenticity. Sombre and bleak, Schrader negates the Hollywood happy ending that ends the film with a sad and sorrowful tone.

Season Hubley is wonderful as teenage prostitute and occasional porn actress, Niki, aiding Van Dorn in his search. Tough and streetwise, Niki has a vulnerability about her that Hubley conveys brilliantly.

Scott does a great job as the faithful Calvinist, stepping out of his conservative comfort zone and in to the real world.

Not so much of an attack on Calvinism, or religion in general, the underlying theme of the film is the damage that strict worship and a devout belief in denomination can cause to relationships.

This is Schrader’s best work. A stronger structure and clear cut narrative, produce a far more appealing and fulfilling movie that shows a maturity in his writing that was absent in Taxi Driver. Along with Blue Collar, these two films show a writer firing on all cylinders; a feat which he has been unable to replicate, since.

An amazing film of character study that will enthrall and then leave you cold.

Brilliance at its finest!


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