Saturday, July 17, 2021

Hard Eight

Movie Name:
Hard Eight
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Melora Walters, Robert Ridgely, 
Genre: Drama, Crime
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
Genial director Paul Thomas Anderson started his career with this somewhat forgotten indie film from the 90s. The film which made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival (where it was workshopped during its gestation phase), later on went to the Cannes Film Festival, though director Paul Thomas Anderson has since the film's release, talked about the strain and problems he had in not having final cut of the project, and how that impacted what was eventually released. The film follows the story of John, a young man whom we encounter at the beginning of the film, in a somewhat destitute state. He is taken under the wing of an experienced and seasoned games expert, Sydney. Sydney grooms John and teaches him how to work the casinos, and make some actual money from the machine slots, and from the casino's own system. A few years later, they're still in Reno, but a few additional characters cross their path. Firstly Clementine, a young waitress, who also moonshines as a discrete prostitute, who catches the attention of both Sydney and John. Secondly, Jimmy, a friend of John's who works at a local casino, and is very aware of some of the machinations and exchanges going on behind the curtains. As Clementine comes deeper into their lives, John's infatuation also grows, and situations start getting out of hand. Sydney tries to sort things out as much as he can, until Jimmy, menacingly enough, lets him know that he is aware of the reason of Sydney's interest in John. 
While "Hard Eight" brings to mind a series of independent films that were done in the mid 90s, almost as a series of tacitly undeclared sequels to Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction", it already reveals traits of what would make Anderson such a phenomenally gifted director. The mechanics of the story itself are somewhat a bit rusty, particularly the jumpstart of the narrative (the lost young man who is taken under the wing of an aging gambling expert). However as the characters become more defined and their emotional wealth becomes more apparent, not only does the story find its own momentum, but it's also an opportunity to witness one of the fantastic aspects which can be found in all films from director Paul Thomas Anderson, precisely that emotional wealth, and his empathy towards his characters. This film definitely doesn't have as much of a scope and depth when compared with the subsequent ones the director has created, but it's nonetheless an entertaining film, with solid performances from Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly (who would continue to appear in "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia"). Philip Seymour Hoffman himself as a smallish performance, which is worth witnessing. While not a modern day classic, as some of his other features, it's definitely worth watching.