A veteran gambler takes a young man out of money and luck under his wings and teaches him how to survive the casino lifestyle.
Stars: Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 102 Minutes
Popcorn Score: Medium Popcorn with Butter
I can imagine that after 50 years, a life on the grind in casinos would get lonely and tiring. This is apparent when we first meet Sydney, a grizzled, old, professional gambler. He is anything but decayed, he is sharp, experienced, and hasn’t lost the touch that is needed to live the life that he has chosen. In the beginning of “Hard Eight” we see that he is ready to pass along his wealth of knowledge to a younger man who is obviously down and out of luck.
John, the young man, learns quickly, taking the veteran’s advice on how to score a free hotel room by cashing un-gambled money, in and out of a single casino over the course of a day. Director Paul Thomas Anderson in his first full length film provides an electric “how to” montage of the scam that sparks the movie’s cool feel and shows that we are watching a director that is here to stay. (I, of course, say that in hindsight, knowing the last 15 years of his career)
We fast forward two years and the pair is still together. John is still the protégé to his professor, but has become more confident and aware. He has made his own friends, one of which who is named Jimmy, an untrustworthy self-defined “consultant” who does some security from time to time for the Reno casinos. He is introduced by Sydney to Clementine, a cocktail waitress that doubles as a hooker by night. Sydney speaks with her honestly and respectfully but doesn’t understand why she needs to do what she does. John falls in love with her and in one day’s time, like only you can do in Navada, they are married.
This is where the story takes off as the three are now intertwined through companionship, friendship, marriage, and what we later find out, crime and a history.
The movie is cool. There are many factors why you can’t take your eyes off of it; it clips along at good pace, the performances are dead on, the directing is always interesting. Even for the first half of the movie when you are kept in the dark on what the relationships are and where the movie is going, it is not boring for a second.
John C Reilly is very good in a timid performance, Gwyneth Paltrow reminds me “that pre-Glee days” she has talent from which you can’t take your focus off, PT Anderson future favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman stands out in a cameo, and of course, Samuel L. plays the cool part to perfection. However above all of those performances, the reason to watch for me is because of Phillip Baker Hall. He is a person you might not know by name, but you will recognize him and you already like him. A few of my personal favorites are him as Inspector Bookman, Library Cop, in Seinfeld, or in a bit part balancing comedy while being a cancer patient in 50/50, or finally playing the comedy in a quickly canceled but hilarious Fox show “The Loop”. He is so fantastic in that he can play everything perfectly, and convincing, he is funnier than the next guy, and he plays drama to perfection, as shown in “Hard Eight”
Finally, as I mentioned before, this is PT Anderson’s first Major Motion Picture. As he already is, and is becoming more and more with each new film, the best director of the 2000’s, “Hard Eight” is a must see because it can serve as an interesting study of how he was when he first started, to how he is now and will be moving forward. It is not only his first; it is one of my favorites.
Medium Popcorn with Butter.