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USA 1996
Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson
96 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Hard Eight

As a debut Hard Eight stands to Paul Thomas Anderson as Reservoir Dogs does to Quentin Tarantino and Blood Simple does the Coens.  It is a gritty little crime thriller that indicates an exceptional grasp of genre film-making with only a tinge of Mamet-like dialogue to distinguish Anderson’s more cerebrally-inflected style

Phillip Baker Hall plays Sydney, a professional gambler who befriends John (John C. Reilly) a dunce stranded in Reno after trying to win money to pay for his mother’s funeral.  Sydney shows John the ropes and the two eventually  become partners. But when John  falls for Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a similarly none-too-bright  cocktail waitress who isn't beyond turning a few tricks to pay her bills, things start to come unstuck in Sydney’s carefully ordered world.

Hard Eight (a gambling term more or less translating as The Hard Way) is blessed by a marvellously economical script by Anderson, well-developed characters, telling performances, tip-top direction and a ton of low budget style. Phillip Baker Hall who is probably best known for his extensive television work is perfectly cast as the phlegmatic Sydney, a man who has learned the hard way that all is dust but is driven by a mission to redeem himself through his caring for his hapless charge. It is this solid motivational core that lifts Hard Eight well above the standard crime thriller.  There are the usual genre elements here, sex, violence  and  Samuel L. Jackson as a bad-ass nigga, but they are all subsumed within Anderson’s  wonderfully wry delineation of the dance of good and bad in this fallen world.




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