Exploring similar themes than Taxi Driver, only having the seedy underbelly of LA as its location, Hardcore doesn't take the easy route of completely moralizing the sex industry, but explores the sleaziness from the perspective of a confused and uncomfortable outsider. And let's face it: the sex industry, like everything else, has its dark side. It's not all fun and games and people who do it for pure pleasure.
Fans of Joel Schumacher's gumshoe sex slave ramble 8MM will be on familiar ground. Even George C Scott fills similar shoes to Nic Cage, rolling around in a state of disbelieving horror that can't quite comprehend the fantastical magic mystery work of adult entertainment that they've dropped into. Also felt the last page of the screenplay must have just said: SEE CHINATOWN.
Like "Cruising" or "Reefer Madness," "Hardcore" is in the tradition of films that, in the process of depicting some current hot topic social deviance, also aim to deliver maximum titillation, and wind up getting it all wrong, devolving into total ridiculousness. The final sequences, shot in San Francisco's North Beach, offer both some genuine cinematic punch and the full-on film noir otherwise lacking here.
"Well then we're just alike. I mean, you think sex is so unimportant that you don't even do it. I think it's so unimportant that I don't care who I do it with." Complicated in its sexual politics, HARDCORE could have taken a morally righteous stand on its topic, but it doesn't, and offers something much more nuanced instead.
Calvinism doesn't get mentioned very much any more so you know this had personal connections for Schrader. The juxtaposition of George C. Scott's Michigan home life w/ his descent into the hell/Sodom & Gomorrah of the porn industry remains viscerally powerful. Despite some B-movie level stuff, Schrader paints the two sides with complexity, while still offering a critique of both extreme world views.