American Hardcore—a documentary about the rise of the American hardcore punk rock movement between 1980 and 1986—contains too much footage and too long of a running time for those requiring just a primer and not enough of either for the die-hard punk rock aficionado.
Those looking for a tidy, cohesive history lesson will be distracted by the endless anecdotes that make up the majority of Hardcore—much of the footage contains testimonials from prominent musicians of the movement, including the Bad Brains' HR, Ian MacKaye from Minor Threat and Dischord, and Black Flag's Henry Rollins. Sure, these bits are compelling, but they're also just a string of anecdotes without much direction. Hardcore attempts to give an overview of the hardcore punk rock phenomenon by blending these accounts with footage from the shows themselves, which is easily the most entertaining part of the film. But with the footage married to rambling interviews, Hardcore soon becomes a string of "I was there when..." stories that one can hear at the bar during any punk reunion tour.
Hardcore also seems a bit off geographically: LA and DC's scenes are thoroughly examined, but other key cities having a hand in hardcore's rise are merely mentioned. Inexplicably, one of the most important bands of the movement—San Francisco's Dead Kennedys—weren't represented at all. Additionally, much of the central US is glanced over—there's no mention of Austin's the Dicks, or Minneapolis' Hüsker Dü, or New Jersey's the Misfits.
Despite all its gaps, American Hardcore ultimately succeeds as an exercise in fraternal self-congratulation. As an archive of the movement, however, hardcore punk would have been better served without the limitations of Hardcore's feature length. In American Hardcore's ambitious attempt to straddle the line between encyclopedic and anecdotal, the film ultimately achieves neither.