George C. Scott descends into the dark underworld of pornography in search of his runaway daughter in this typically strange and engrossing odyssey from Paul Schrader

Film Review by Philip Concannon | 26 May 2017
Film title: Hardcore
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: George C. Scott, Peter Boyle, Season Hubley, Dick Sargent, Leonard Gaines
Release date: 22 May
Certificate: 18

From Taxi Driver to American Gigolo to Light Sleeper, Paul Schrader's characters have frequently lived by night, but Jake Van Dorn (the magnificent George C. Scott) is his most atypical nocturnal wanderer. A strict Calvinist and upright pillar of the community in Grand Rapids, Michigan (where Schrader hails from), Van Dorn is drawn into a dark underworld of pornography when his teenage daughter disappears. Hardcore's most famous scene is undoubtedly the one in which Van Dorn sees the evidence of her downfall with his own eyes, his face contorted in pain as the explicit film plays. “Oh God, that's my daughter,” he cries. “TURN IT OFF!”

Beyond that anguished moment, what’s surprising about revisiting Hardcore is how much humour there is. Schrader seems to be fully aware of the inherent comedy in the incongruous sight of Scott awkwardly bumbling his way through sex shops and brothels, and the film peaks with a bizarre sequence in which he dons a terrible wig and moustache to play a porn producer auditioning male leads.

That this very funny sequence ends with a brutal beating is indicative of the tonal push-pull that exists throughout Hardcore. The film can feel a little wayward, particularly towards its climax, and Schrader’s ideas are often bluntly delivered, but the tangibly seedy atmosphere and a collection of excellent performances (particularly Peter Boyle, Leonard Gaines and Season Hubley) hold this strange and engrossing odyssey together.


The excellent transfer does justice to Michael Chapman’s lurid cinematography, but in a revealing interview on the disc he expresses his disappointment with the film’s development away from its 16mm verité origins when Scott got involved. There’s also an excerpt from a forthcoming documentary on composer Jack Nitzsche, and in a fascinating NFT interview from 1993, Schrader discusses projects both made and unmade and the state of contemporary American cinema. [Philip Concannon]

Released on Blu-ray by Indicator http://theskinny.co.uk/film