Paul Schrader is one of the greatest screenwriters — best known for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Bringing Out the Dead, all directed by Martin Scorsese — and a magnificent writer-director, righty celebrated for American Gigolo and the recent First Reformed and The Card Counter. He’s made a long list of movies we respect and love, but Hardcore isn’t quite there.
Hardcore has an excellent concept, some brilliant acting, and many, many smart moments, but the film, now available on the Criterion Channel, doesn’t come together. (Schrader himself has plenty of critiques of it.) Hardcore is about a Calvinist dad (Schrader was raised in a strict Calvinist household) whose daughter disappears – and later turns up in an adult movie. The dad (George C. Scott) has to infiltrate the underground film industry to find her, with help from sex worker Niki (Season Hubley).
Scott’s transition from uptight Midwesterner to a street-smart slick operator feels abrupt, and the film takes a quick, darkly cartoonish descent into the film underworld that feels forced. Still, we respect Hardcore for its matter-of-fact depiction of how the adult industry works.
It’s also fun that Hardcore has so many references to Star Wars, which brings us to the next movie on our list.