Movie Review – Hard Eight (1996)

An old yet smooth small-time gambler (Philip Baker Hall) finds a man (John C. Reilly) hunched in front of the entrance to a diner.  After inviting him in for a coffee, the man, John, proceeds to explain that he needs cash for his mom’s funeral.  The gambler, Sydney, decides to help John get the money he needs.  Sydney takes John to Reno and teaches him some of the ropes.  Quickly, John becomes indebted and enamored with the wise old man.

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A few years later, John is doing rather well for himself, following Sydney every step of the way.  However, things start going wrong when John gets caught up with a cocktail waitress with problems of her own and it’s up to Sydney as to whether John can escape it all or become a dead man.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut film, Hard Eight is a tough one to nail.  It’s got a smooth feeling to it, but it also has that strange off-balance feeling to it, as if things aren’t what they seem and what you think is the status quo is just a machination that has yet to meet its inevitable end.  Anderson has made a living off of that style and at the very least, Hard Eight provides you with a look at where it all began.

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That’s not to say it isn’t a swell movie (geez, swell?  Did I really just say that?).  In fact, one might say that it’s good (wow, that’s just mean).  No seriously, it’s a good flick.  It has a decent enough plot line that’s easy to follow (although the twist is a bit contrived and could’ve used more elaboration) and the ending was good enough (if not a bit cheesy).  Probably the best part is the performances from Philip Baker Hall and Gwyneth Paltrow.  Hall goes all in and creates a gruff yet warm persona who always appears the smartest guy in the room.  And despite everything said about her, Paltrow can pitch a good game herself.

The flaws come simply from a lack of experience in the art of film-making, which when combined with the low production value, relegates the film to a circle of indie, cult and arthouse films (not like that’s necessarily a bad thing, but you can see how people might think it is).  Anderson just hasn’t ironed out the kinks yet, but as we all know, he’d figure it out eventually.  I will expand on this when I do my review of one of his most celebrated works, There Will Be Blood, some time soon.

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To cap it off, this is decent movie, check it out ’cause Sidney’s da bomb, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Samuel L. Jackson are both in it and are complete douchbags.  What’s not to like?

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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