Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Combing the Streets of Sin - Hardcore (1979)

Hardcore porn and religious beliefs don’t usually mix, and for good reason. They’re diametrically opposite in every regard; so when the worlds of sex and God clash, it can be quite shocking. At least it was for Jack VanDorn(George C. Scott), a Midwestern businessman whose daughter goes missing while on a church-sponsored outing. VanDorn hires a private detective to find her, and when he does, it’s in about the worst place anyone would want their daughter to be. It turns out she ran away to go into the porn industry, and VanDorn sets off to get her back. As I mentioned, he’s a deeply religious man, and you would think he wouldn’t have the fortitude to sink into the seedy underbelly of depravity and sin, but you would be wrong. He’s a man on a mission, and putting up with the filth he finds along the way is a small price to pay to make sure his daughter is safe.

VanDorn starts his journey in a way you would expect him to, by blindly asking questions to anyone with their tits hanging out. And also as you would expect, that doesn’t get him very far. He spends a lot of time getting acquainted with various massage parlors and nudie bars, and at first, his frustration is written all over his face. He knows he doesn’t belong is places like this, but what else can he do? The police didn’t lift a finger to help, and the detective he hired turned out to be just as useless. After getting his face slammed into the side of a car, he decides to take a more stealthy approach by pretending to be an adult film producer. He has a photo of one of the guys who was in a movie with his daughter, so he holds auditions to try and catch the dirty bastard and get her whereabouts from him. But one clue only leads to another, and another, and yet another. His search seems to be getting him nowhere until he finds a hooker who might know where she is. He pays her to help him look, and one thing leads to another, and he eventually finds out she’s begun appearing in snuff films. But will he find her? And if he does, what then?

There are definitely a lot of naked bodies in this film, but it doesn’t show anything very explicit. That’s not the point. We can all guess the kind of things that go on where VanDorn is occupying his time, and we see glimpses of it everywhere. But the story doesn’t dwell on such things. It’s more about VanDorn’s relentless journey into a foreign world; a world he has no knowledge of, but still he trudges though it, hoping to find the light at the end of the tunnel. The frustration previously on his face slowly turns into a calm determination, and while his religious background will always be a part of him, he knows sticking to a moral high ground will only hurt his chances of finding his daughter. It’s a role that could easily lean too far one way or the other. Playing the pissed off father too heavily could throw any sympathy toward the character out the window. On the other hand, portraying VanDorn as too hopeless and lost would make the progress in his search seem unbelievable. Luckily, George C. Scott is a god among men, and he balances the two personality traits with the ease of a tightrope walker. He’s equal parts enraged yet calm, vengeful but still vulnerable, and his performance is as good as anything he’s ever done.

Hardcore is the second feature from director Paul Schrader, and he handles the material with the same balance that George C. Scott brings to Jack VanDorn. There are some disgusting people in this film, but not everyone is shown as such. For instance, the hooker that VanDorn enlists in his search seems to be a good person, and it’s nice to see the film be more even-handed in its portrayal of its characters. There seems to be a thread linking a lot of the films I’ve talked about recently; stories focused more on the pursuer instead of the pursued, and I think this angle really helps carry interest through to the end. And in this instance, taking the journey solely with VanDorn allowed me to feel his pain every step of the way. I think the ending was a little rushed, and could have used about 20 more minutes to really make the impact Schrader was going for, but again, the journey was what engaged me, not the outcome. And it’s a journey I’d recommend you take as soon as possible.

( Sorry, but I couldn't find a trailer on Youtube for this film, and the dvd doesn't even have one on it. If anyone can find an embeddable link to one, let me know...)

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