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Hard Eight (1996)

Cast: Philip Baker Hall, Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, more...
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson
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Studio: Columbia TriStar
Genre: Drama, Independent, Classic Crime, Crime, Classic Crime, Neo Noir
Running Time: 101 min.
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
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Before his commercial breakthrough with Boogie Nights (1997), writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson made this low-key drama. John (John C. Reilly), a half-bright loser stranded in Reno, is down to his last few bucks when Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall), taking pity on him, buys him breakfast and offers him a few tips on making money in the casinos. Two years later, John has become Sydney's partner, but his lack of common sense goes from problematic to dangerous when he falls in love with Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a cocktail waitress who isn't above turning a few tricks when she needs to make money -- and isn't any brighter than John. Hall and Reilly, both first-rate character actors, are cast in rare leading roles, and Paltrow is cast strongly against type as a part-time prostitute with a serious lack of street smarts. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide

You might also enjoy:
House of Games
David Mamet knows this terrain like the back of his hand

Boogie Nights
Anderson's acclaimed second film was worlds away in pacing and setting

The Talented Mr. Ripley
Hall, Hoffman and Paltrow all co-starred in this mesmerizing adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel

GreenCine Member Reviews

strong performances and a good script by oldkingcole March 1, 2002 - 5:30 PM PST
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful
I disliked Paul Thomas Anderson's more recent film, Magnolia, though I have friends who love it. Even so, I could see in Magnolia evidence of a filmmaker who has talent, and so was curious to see Hard Eight, one of his earlier efforts. It is as lean and tight as Magnolia is bloated and self-indulgent. Philip Baker Hall gives a magnificent performance as the enigmatic gambling expert who seems to understand how everything works -- not just casinos, but human behavior also seems to be no mystery to him. John Reilly's character accuses him of mistaking himself for St. Francis, and indeed there is something godlike in the way his character, Sydney, comes out of nowhere to rescue Reilly's character, John, from utter destitution. Having established in the first act that Sydney is character who is used to being in control, when things begin to unravel in the second act, the Paul Anderson - Philip Baker Hall team easily keeps our interest. How will this cool, under control, neat and tidy man deal with a situation which is anything but neat and tidy? There are several nice parallels drawn between the characters. When Gwyneth Paltrow's character touchingly confesses to utter embarrasment in a poignant scene in the front seat of Sydney's car, he seems very understanding. Later, we learn why he is so able to empathize with feelings of mortification. In fact, it is a testament to Hall's outstanding turn as Sydney, that even as we learn a great deal about his character's backstory, he never loses his enigmatic edge -- the sense that there are layers and layers of repressed loves, fears, and regrets, hidden beneath his tightly controlled exterior. Our interest in peering into those layers is a large part of what sustains this film. Reilly, Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson are also excellent in their respective roles. If you enjoy watching films that give space to their actors and draw strong, distinctive performance from them, then this is a film you won't want to miss. But Philip Baker Hall really steals the show. His performance isn't very showy, but its power is undeniable. Recommended.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.93)
332 Votes
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