Hard EightFebruary 28, 1997
John has lost all his money. He sits outside a diner in the desert when Sydney happens along, buys him coffee…
Release Year: 1996
Rating: 7.2/10 (13,747 voted)
Critic's Score: 78/100
Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow
John has lost all his money. He sits outside a diner in the desert when Sydney happens along, buys him coffee, then takes him to Reno and shows him how to get a free room without losing much money. Under Sydney's fatherly tutelage, John becomes a successful small-time professional gambler, and all is well, until he falls for Clementine, a cocktail waitress and sometimes hooker.
Philip Baker Hall
John C. Reilly
Samuel L. Jackson
F. William Parker
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Young Craps Player
(as Phillip Seymour Hoffman)
Keno Bar Manager
Michael J. Rowe
When good luck is a long shot, you have to hedge your bets.
Release Date: 28 February 1997
Filming Locations: Reno, Nevada, USA
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $69,486
(2 March 1997)
Did You Know?
Though Sydney's last name is never mentioned in the film, in the original ending the motel man addresses him as "Sydney Brown." (Another possibility: a scene filmed at the Sundance Lab showing John attempting to call Sydney has him asking for the room of a "Mr. Blake.")
Crew or equipment visible:
Camera operator's shadow visible on the ground during the first scene where Sydney meets John (full-frame version only).
I have a friend in Los Angeles. Someone… maybe someone who can help. I can make a call for you, tell him you're a friend, so on and so forth, and we can work this thing out here. I think if you need help paying for your mother's funeral, we can work it out. I want you to see that my reasons for doing this are not selfish, only this: I'd hope that you would do the same for me.
I would. Thank you.
[shakes John's hand]
It's always good to meet a new friend. I'll see you later.
a first-time filmmaker very well on his way…
Paul Thomas Anderson's first film, Sydney (titled 'Hard Eight' by the
distributors), has a story, but its more concerned about the
characters, and how these actors play them. Like its inspiration,
Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob le Flambeur, understanding who these people
are in this seedy, desperate environment, is the key. The script is
intelligent, and contains a truth that isn't found in most "off-beat"
crime films. In fact, the crimes in the film, while not without the
importance to the story, is secondary to how these people are around
one another, the courtesy, the un-said things, the mishaps, and the
truths. In tune with Melville, the film is decidedly European- the
story is quite leisurely, almost too much so, but in the characters
Anderson has created and fleshed out he has people we can care about.
Philip Baker Hall, in a towering performance of professionalism (he's
one of those great character actors who practically wears the years of
his life on his face, not to sound pretentious about it), is the title
character of Sydney. He offers Jimmy (John C. Reilly, believable in a
role seemingly more like himself than his Reed Rothchild in Anderson's
Boogie Nights) a cigarette and a cup of coffee, and then finds out
through the conversation his mother's passed on. He offers up an
intricate, but rewarding, way of making money in a casino without
laying down a card (the slots, and a different scheme). Flash ahead two
years later (awesome transition, by the way) where Jimmy is with
Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow, a good performance). Things seem to be
going alright all around, except that Jimmy has a violent (shown
off-screen, of course) run-in, and needs Sydney's help. But there's
another secret that has yet to be told.
All the little details of the story are accentuated by a directorial
style that is usually peerless, and the tracking shots that have become
paramount in Anderson's films (i.e. opening of Boogie Nights, walking
through TV studio in Magnolia) are as smooth and interesting as
anything from Scorsese. The Vegas Muzak is a touch that adds, like with
Melville, a cool kind of touch not at all un-like film-noir. It's
actually a thin line that Anderson is walking; how to make the Melville
story's elements (an aging gambler past his prime, watching over the
young people in their own messes, seeing the old turn to new) as one's
own. I think he's achieved that in the film with a sense of sincerity
with the characters dialog with each other. Perhaps Sydney has a
different agenda than just being friendly. But Anderson wisely allows
Hall to make the right choices with just certain facial expressions,
what isn't said that counts. And the scenes with Samuel L. Jackson
bring out the kind of intensity, sometimes quiet sometimes not, that
hallmark his best performances. Maybe not a masterpiece, but it
certainly isn't the work of an amateur, assured in his own script as a
director, and in the strengths of his four key players.