“Turn it off…turn it off…turn it off…TURN IT OFF!” — Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) in Hardcore (1979)
Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) is a businessman who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He’s a deeply religious man, a sincere believer in predestination and the idea that only an elite few has been prelected to go to Heaven. Jake is divorced (though he occasionally tells people that his wife died) and is the father of a teenage girl named Kristen (Ilah Davis).
One of the first things that we notice about Jake is that there appears to be something off about his smile. There’s no warmth or genuine good feeling behind it. Instead, whenever Jake smile, it’s obvious that it’s something he does because that what he’s supposed to do. Indeed, everything Jake does is what he’s supposed to do and he expects his daughter to do the same.
When Kristen goes to a church camp in California, she soon disappears. Jake and his brother-in-law, Wes (Dick Sargent), fly down to Los Angeles and hire a sleazy private investigator, Andy Mast (Peter Boyle), to look for her. A few weeks later, Andy shows Jake a pornographic film. The star? Kristen.
Jake is convinced that Kristen has been kidnapped and is being held captive. Wes tells Jake that he should just accept that this is God’s will. Andy tells Jake that, even if he does find Kristen, Jake might not want her back. Finally, Jake tells off Wes, fires Andy, and ends up in Los Angeles himself. Pretending to be a film producer and recruiting a prostitute named Nikki (Season Hubley) to serve as a guide, Jake searches for his daughter.
The relationship between Jake and Nikki is really the heart of the film. For Jake, Nikki becomes a temporary replacement for his own daughter. For Nikki, Jake appears to be the only man in the world who doesn’t want to use her sexually. But, as Jake gets closer and closer to finding his daughter, Nikki realizes that she’s getting closer and closer to being abandoned.
Hardcore is a pretty good film, one that was shot in location in some of the sleaziest parts of 70s Los Angeles. Plotwise, the film is fairly predictable but George C. Scott, Season Hubley, and Peter Boyle all give excellent performances. (The scenes were Scott pretends to be a porn producer are especially memorable, with Scott perfectly capturing Jake’s discomfort while also subtly suggesting that Jake is enjoying himself more than he wants to admit.) And, even if you see it coming from miles away, the film’s ending will stick with you.