Posted by: ckckred | June 21, 2013

Hard Eight

I finish off Paul Thomas Anderson's filmography with his first movie

I finish off Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography with his first movie

In his seventeen-year career, director Paul Thomas Anderson has proven himself to be not only the best director of his generation, but one of cinema’s greatest directors.  Anderson is astute in understanding the human mind, and movies such as Magnolia and There Will Be Blood take the complexities of life to a whole new level.  While Anderson’s major breakthrough was his sophomore effort Boogie Nights, the filmmaker kicked off his career with the equally impressive Hard Eight, a tense thriller that grows more exciting each passing minute.  While it is perhaps the weakest of Anderson’s filmography, Hard Eight is marvelously entertaining and highly rewarding.

Hard Eight begins with Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall), a longtime gambler, going to a diner and discovering a young man loitering on the side.  That young man is John (John C. Reilly).  John has just went up to gambling hopes of making $6,000 to pay for his mother’s funeral, but ended up breaking even.  Feeling sympathy for John, Sydney takes him to Las Vegas and teaches him how to earn himself a room at a casino by recycling his chips.

Two years later, Sydney and John are still good friends.  John has made the money for his mother’s funeral and is comfortable at a casino in Reno.  There, Sydney and John meet a waitress named Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), who soon becomes intertwined in their lives.  John also befriends James (Samuel L. Jackson), who menaces Sydney in their brief first encounter.  Things for the characters take a turn for the worst as an unexpected incident threatens their safety and their lives.

Paul Thomas Anderson, like many 90s directors, stylizes the movie in a Scorsese-like fashion.  While Hard Eight does not take place in an expansive world, everything seems so polished and refined.  Anderson moves the camera with such skill and vitality it’s hard to believe it’s the filmmaker’s first feature movie.  He also fills the movie to the brim with such excellent, juicy dialogue.  There are many memorable quotes that populate Hard Eight and make it fast-paced and lively.

Hard Eight, like Paul Thomas Anderson’s other films, has a fantastic cast.  Philip Baker Hall gives an amazing performance as Sydney and adds a level of seriousness to the character few actors provide.  John C. Reilly also does well as John, though I wouldn’t call it the actor’s best performance.  While I’ve never been a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, I was very impressed by her performance as Clementine and I’d say it would rival her role in The Royal Tenenbaums.  And Samuel L. Jackson provides the charisma only Jackson could do.  Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman also has a cameo as a rowdy gambler.

While Hard Eight doesn’t achieve the perfection of Anderson’s later movies and has a few bumps in its story, it is an effective tale that foretells Anderson’s power as a director.  Movies rarely get as tight as this.

Editor’s Note: Tomorrow, I will post an analysis on Paul Thomas Anderson now that I’ve finished his filmography.  Also, two characters mentioned in the movie, “Floyd Gondolli” and “Jimmy Gator,” are roles played by Phillip Baker Hall in Anderson’s next two movies (Boogie Nights and Magnolia respectively).



  1. Great little film. I too have seen all of Anderson’s films and he hasn’t made a bad one yet. This isn’t his strongest but still a very fine debut. Nice review, man.

    • Thanks! I’d call this Anderson’s weakest movie, but I love all his films. It’s a great debut and is a thrilling picture.

  2. I’d maybe disagree slightly. I find his films while incredibly well made, hard to connect or engage with as a viewer. There Will Be Blood, is probably on my top 100 list, but other than that, I’m not overly keen. Not to an extent that paints him as one of the greatest auteurs of all time anyway.

    • I think Anderson’s earlier movies (Magnolia, Boogie Nights) are probably more relatable, but I still find myself throughly engaged in all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s movies. I love all of his films, but you make a fair point about him. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I’m not the biggest PT Anderson fan but this one looks interesting. Nice review.

    • Thanks! I’d probably say this is his weakest and there are a couple of bumps in the plot, but it still is an exception movie.

  4. Have not seen this one. I love both Boogie Nights and Magnolia, but then when I saw the one with Adam Sandler and Emily Warson, I got turned off of Anderson…will give this one a viewing, though.

    • Thanks for the comment. I highly recommend this. I love Magnolia and Boogie Nights as well. Give Punch-Drunk Love another shot, that’s a great movie in my opinion.

  5. This is funny because I actually watched Magnolia last night! I only have two more (Boogie Nights and Punch Drunk Love) to go. Look forward to your analysis of PTA’s career!
    I thought the film was pretty decent, definitely not one of his best but entertaining enough. That said, I don’t know if I’ll ever be seeing it again. Just doesn’t seem worth it somehow. I thought it was interesting how he focuses on the relationship between these two men here (one a mentor and one a follower) and then did something sort of similar (but still very different) in The Master.
    Nice review! Congrats on finishing up PTA’s filmography!

    • Thanks! It’s very entertaining. The mentor-follower relationship is definitely a staple in Anderson’s work. I really enjoyed it, even though it’s not PTA’s best movie. What did you think of Magnolia? That’s my favorite by him.

      • I liked Magnolia a lot, but I’m having a hard time putting it all together. And then the frogs happened…. I think I’ll feel better about it once I’ve had more time to digest it.

      • Yeah, it’s a hard movie to digest but I absolutely love it. I’ve watched it a few times and it improves great after each viewing.

  6. It’s a slow-burner of a flick, but the cast and writing is top-notch that makes it the least bit entertaining. Although, I have to say that ending was a bit of a bummer. Good review.

    • Thanks! Yeah, the cast and writing is great. I think it’s weaker than PTA’s other movies, but it’s still highly entertaining.

  7. Nice review mate. I need to catch up on some more of PTA’s stuff. I’ve only seen There Will Be Blood and Magnolia.

    • Thanks! Try checking out both The Master and Boogie Nights next, though I think all of his films are great.

  8. Nice job. It’s always great to see Hard Eight spotlighted. I’m not sure it’s a better film in terms of his direction, but I actually find more enjoyment with this movie than with The Master or There Will Be Blood. I think it’s because of the connection with the characters, which I didn’t feel in The Master. Regardless, he’s one of the best directors working today.

    • Thanks! I can see that point. The Anderson movie I most enjoy is Magnolia, though I’d be hard-pressed to pick his best between that and There Will Be Blood.

  9. Great review! Never seen this, it sure isn’t talked about as much as Anderson’s other films.

    • Thanks! I had to rent it off Netflix since I couldn’t find a DVD to buy without a high price. It’s much smaller than his other movies, but still very great.

  10. Great write up! I have not seen Hard 8, but with that cast, how can it be bad?

    • Thanks! Even though it’s PTA’s weakest film, it still is a phenomenal movie.

  11. Excellent. Good work on giving this little seen movie some love. If you’re interested check out my review

    • Thanks! It is a very underrated movie. I’m a huge PTA fan and I’ve been wanting to see this for a while to say I’ve finished his filmography. I’ll stop by your review soon.

  12. […] 6. Hard Eight […]

  13. I agree, CK. It’s not at the level of his later works, but it’s still pretty good. 😉

    • Thanks for the comment! Yeah, Anderson’s later movies are stronger, but this one’s good as well and a great debut for the director.

  14. Yup, in agreement too. It’s a really strong debut, but perhaps has been overshadowed by what has followed. That said, it’s a really interesting film in the context of his career – you can definitely see things he expanded on with later films; I think the colours in this were muted/faded and quite similar to Punch Drunk Love in that sense, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen either and I may well be mis-remembering..!

    • Thanks! It’s a great debut, even though I prefer Anderson’s later movies. I would compare it more to Boogie Nights in respect to its mood.

  15. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention, I will give it a watch.

    • No problem. I highly recommend it, though it’s probably PTA’s weakest movie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: