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Jake Van Dorn is a businessman from the American heartland who shares strong Calvinist convictions with most of his countrymen. His teenage daughter is missing from her church youth convention trip to California and Van Dorn hires a private investigator to find her. The result of the investigation is his daughter is spotted in a cheap X-rated movie. Van Dorn decides to bring her back personally and during the quest he becomes familiar with the pornographic underworld. Written by
Dragan Antulov <email@example.com>
When Jake has returned to L.A. and fires his detective, he creates a list of establishments to do his own research and that evening and drives around visiting places on his list. The first place he visits has a street number of 739 (visible in frame) but in looking at address detail in the long shot of the list itself, there are no references to a street number of 739 anywhere. See more »
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Fitting into shoes you never thought you'd bring yourself to own
Paul Schrader's Hardcore features a rare performance that tows the fine line between believable lunacy and cartoonish behavior that never crosses over and subjects itself to the latter. The performance is that of George C. Scott, who plays Jake Van Dorn, a Calvinist businessman working in Michigan and serving as a single-parent to his eighteen-year-old daughter Kristen. While presumably on a church retreat to Bellflower, California, Kristen never arrives at the event, leading Jake to hire a private investigator (Peter Boyle) to try and find her whereabouts. Eventually, the investigator finds an 8mm film of his daughter and two other men around her age; it's clear just from the first frame of the film, which Jake sees at a local seedy theater, his daughter is now a porn star.
Jake loses it, with enough questions, assumptions, judgments, and miscalculations racing through his mind to cripple the psyche of a dozen men. He comes to the conclusion that his daughter had to have been kidnapped to join such an underworld, and becomes dedicated to bringing her back home. He dives into California's sleazy, pornographic underworld, venturing through brothels, adult bookstores, and peep shows to find her, eventually meeting Nikki (Season Hubley), a porn star and hooker.
Hardcore is the classic case of a character being immersed in a world he had no conception of and would've rather gone on pretending as if the world and all of those affected by it never existed. His tunnel-vision, conservative mindset has made it seem that since everything in his own life was perfect and completely free of any trouble, that there's no way anyone else's life could be troubled. He doesn't see problems, therefore none exist.
Jake's rude awakening becomes more alarming with what he has to witness. To many audience members, presuming their braveness to already seek out such a peculiar film, the content in Hardcore isn't particularly jolting, but to Jake, it's some of the most revolting stuff he's seen in his entire life. Consider the discomfort and anxiety felt by Jake as he walks into a low-lit brothel, with pulsating, blood-red lights and wallpaper decorating the rooms and meets a young stripper, with a thick piece of glass separating them. The stripper plants both of her heels on the glass whilst sitting down, exposing her whole body for Jake's pleasure, as they communicate through the glass. Jake is beyond uncomfortable and is simply trying to get his daughter back, but in order to do so, he must subject himself to worlds he never thought could've existed.
This kind of relativism makes for a deeply fascinating film, and in Schrader's screen writing and directing hands, Hardcore beams with life. Schrader includes a barrage of must-have locations for this kind of film, and captures them in a way that adheres to the principles of realism. Never does Schrader seem to go overboard in his depictions of this underworld, nor does he compromise Jake's character by making him unlikable. This is one of the first times I've seen such a close-minded, holier-than-thou, judgmental character on screen that I didn't detest; it's not entirely his fault he's been closeted to his own set of beliefs for so many years. He thought all was well and good.
Scott captures this character so intensely that even his freakouts and mental breakdowns don't feel forced nor over-the-top. Scott eventually learns how to get ahead in this business, at one point going undercover as a director and interviewing male porn stars that could've perhaps had contact with his daughter. These scenes, when Scott dawns a wig, a fake mustache, and shag clothing, are completely transforming for his character, and we see a man's own personal ethics and values degrade throughout the entire film, in a slowburn fashion.
Hardcore sizzles on screen, creating characters that exist, a fascinating underworld captured in details rather than in essences, and an impending sense of dread as time marches on and Jake's daughter's fate becomes more and more questionable. Much has been made about the finale, which is said to have been taken over by cautious studio executives rather than accurately reflecting the original vision of Schrader. For me, it works as a way to simmer down the film's explosiveness that it carries throughout, especially towards the end, as things intensify. The bittersweetness of the entire affair, in addition, compliments the film's nature of nothing ever totally being right or in place; not even in the beginning, as Jake is still so deeply lost in his own mannerisms.
Starring: George C. Scott, Season Aubrey, and Peter Boyle. Directed by: Paul Schrader.
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