Hardcore (1979 film)

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Hardcore 1979 movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Schrader
Written byPaul Schrader
Produced byBuzz Feitshans
John Milius
CinematographyMichael Chapman
Edited byTom Rolf
Music byJack Nitzsche
Color processMetrocolor
A-Team Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 9, 1979 (1979-02-09) (United States)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States

Hardcore is a 1979 American neo-noir crime-drama film[1] written and directed by Paul Schrader and starring George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Ilah Davis and Season Hubley. The story concerns a father (Scott) searching for his daughter (Davis), who has vanished only to appear in a pornographic film. 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 is a prosperous local businessman in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has strong Calvinist convictions.[2] A single parent, Van Dorn is the father of a seemingly quiet, conservative teenage girl, Kristen, who inexplicably disappears when she goes on a church-sponsored trip to Bellflower, California. Andy Mast, a strange private investigator (PI) from Los Angeles, is then hired to find her, eventually turning up an 8mm stag film of Kristen 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 posts an advertisement and disguise as a pornography producer in the Los Angeles Free Press, hoping to find information about his daughter. After many porn actors visit Van Dorn's motel, a scraggly actor named "Jism Jim", who was in the 8mm stag film with Kristen, appears and knows where she might be. Jim sends Van Dorn to an occasional porn actress and prostitute named Niki. 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 to each other: Niki feels protected by Van Dorn because he is a man who does not 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 films". 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 — 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 make her reveal the information.

Van Dorn finds the player named 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 will 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. She 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 is clear to both that it is 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.



The film was produced by John Milius who said it was "a wonderful script that turned out to be a lousy movie. I blame Paul's direction for that."[3]

Warren Beatty originally wanted to play the lead but, according to the 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."[4]


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.[5] 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.[6] 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".[7] 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."[8]

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."[9] 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."[10] 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".[11]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 76% based on 25 reviews, with an average rating of 6.86/10. The site's consensus states: "Director Paul Schrader's preoccupations with alienation and faith are given a compelling avatar in George C. Scott's superb performance, although some audiences may find Hardcore too soft to live up to its provocative promise."[12]

Home video release[edit]

Hardcore was available on VHS during the 1980s from Columbia Pictures Home Video and later RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video. In the 1990s, 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 of 3,000 copies. The disc has a commentary track from Schrader as well as the critics Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo. It is now available on streaming video and digital download through Amazon.com, Apple's iTunes Store, Vudu and other online media.

Awards and nominations[edit]

List of awards and nominations
Award Date Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Berlin International Film Festival 1979 Golden Bear: Best Picture Hardcore Nominated [13]
Stinkers Bad Movie Awards 1979 Worst Film Hardcore Nominated [14]
Worst Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role George C. Scott Nominated [15]
Worst Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Ilah Davis Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Silver, Alain; Ward, Elizabeth, eds. (1992). Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style (3rd ed.). Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.[page needed]
  2. ^ Jackson, Kevin, ed. (2004). Schrader on Schrader and Other Writings. Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-22176-9.[page needed]
  3. ^ Tarantino, Quentin (11 April 2020). "Tarantino on Milius". New Beverly Cinema.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (12 March 1978). "Paul Schrader: "Hard Core"". RogerEbert (Interview). Archived from the original on 3 April 2016.
  5. ^ "Hardcore Movie Review & Film Summary (1979)". Chicago Sun-Times. 1 January 1979. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (23 February 1979). "'Hardcore': Rich, human story". Chicago Tribune. Section 4, pp. 1, 4.
  7. ^ "Film Reviews: Hardcore". Variety. 14 February 1979. p. 23. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (11 February 1979). "'Hardcore': Bring Your Own Morality". The New York Times. p. D15. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  9. ^ Kael, Pauline (19 February 1979). "The Current Cinema: No Comment". The New Yorker. pp. 124, 126. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  10. ^ Champlin, Charles (16 February 1979). "George C. Scott in 'Hardcore'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
  11. ^ Arnold, Gary (1 February 1979). "Absorbing Search". The Washington Post. pp. C1, C7. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  12. ^ "Hardcore". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 20 November 2012.
  13. ^ "29th Berlin International Film Festival 1979". FilmAffinity. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  14. ^ "The Stinkers 1979 Ballot". Stinkers Bad Movie Awards. Archived from the original on 11 October 2003.
  15. ^ "Stinkers Ballot Expansion Project: 1979". Stinkers Bad Movie Awards. Archived from the original on 6 February 2005.

External links[edit]