A particular scene in Paul Schrader’s Hardcore has George C.Scott’s Jake Vandorn character approaching a porn movie producer with a proposition: He wants to invest $50,000 in one of these movies. He tells him that he doesn’t know anything about this business but wants to learn a thing or two from him. The producer thinks he is nuts and asks him, “You can use that money to get lots of pussy. Why do you want to do this?” But he is not really nuts. He is looking for his daughter who went missing weeks ago. A private detective he hired to look for her, took him to a theater a while back and gave him the biggest shock of his life: An X-rated movie starring his daughter.
The thing is, no one knows who made it. It’s one of those tiny, obscure movies that changes its title every time it changes hands and no one gives a shit about them. But Jake is determined to find her at all costs. The film is Schrader’s follow-up to his impressive debut Blue Collar and is one of his stronger works. Sure, it’s about a man who searches for his daughter but it’s not something like Liam Neeson’s Taken or Charles Bronson’s Death Wish films. It’s a great character study masquerading as a sort of investigation film. It asks some strong questions about religion, sex and parenthood than it does about the dark and seedy world of pornography. Scott’s character is a well-to-do, extremely conservative businessman with strong moral convictions.
At one point, the private investigator (played by Peter Boyle) if he has seen any adult movies and he tells him that he isn’t. But he knows about what goes on in them. When Jake starts visiting these theaters and sex shops, he looks totally out of place and everyone thinks he is some kind of cop. But he is a smart man and immediately rectifies that problem by disguising as a director. He takes out an ad saying he is looking for actors in his next movie. He finds an unlikely ally in the form of a young prostitute who agrees to help him out. The conversations he has with this girl are unexpectedly fascinating and reminds one of De Niro and Jodie Foster’s scenes from Taxi Driver. He thinks sex is the reason for most of the problems in this world and you can’t help but agree with him, although to an extent.
Some of the trademark Schrader sequences can be seen here, like the lead character driving around at night, going to shady places and meeting with a lot of unsavory characters. It seems like Schrader wrote this film with Scott in mind. He perfectly utilizes his intensity and doesn’t go over the top. He explodes only where it is necessary. A year later, he would do a similar role in a horror film called The Changeling. Hardcore is one of the last handful of gritty and ballsy films to come out of the 70s. And Peter Boyle’s presence is a bonus.