George C. Scott stars as a pious midwestern father who searches Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco looking for his missing daughter after a private detective (Peter Boyle) reveals she’s been working in the porn industry. With the help of a young prostitute (Season Hubley), Scott zeroes in on the men who may have kidnapped his daughter — or did she go willingly?
Writer/director Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ) takes us on another one of his trademark journeys into darkness with Hardcore. The film works as an exploration into a subculture many of us never learn about, and also as a character-driven drama about a man who must confront everything he hates to save someone he loves. Before the mystery angle can get tiresome, the film shifts focus to Scott’s relationship with Hubley’s character. The two couldn’t be any more different, but that doesn’t stop them from developing affection for one another as they travel the California coast following clues to the daughter’s whereabouts.
Things get dark, involving torture and snuff films. The film does a good job making us wonder if Scott will find his daughter dead or alive, right up until the end. But the end is also perhaps the film’s weakest moment, at least in the manner it resolves (or fails to resolve) Scott’s friendship with Hubley. Hardcore is still an engrossing story overall, and a safe way to peek inside a tantalizing underworld. With Dick Sargent and Gary Graham.