Hard Eight (1997)

PT taking a page out of Tarantino’s book.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film charts the relationship between reckless youth John (John C. Reilly) and world-weary card shark Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), who takes John under his wing after showing him how to exploit the casinos’ perks. Years later, the surrogate father and son are successful gamblers until John falls for a cocktail waitress (Gwyneth Paltrow) and gets mixed up with a shady stranger (Samuel L. Jackson).

The film looks like as if its going to be your usual gambling drama film, but then suddenly switches into the mode of suspense thriller, which totally took me by suprise.

The one extraordinary  thing that this film does is that it does focus so much on the thrilling aspect but on the characters at hand. PT Anderson gives us these interesting and compelling characters who from the get-go we know nothing about, but want to know so much more as the film goes on.

PT Anderson really does show off some of his best work here, as he uses the camera to make so many things work. For example, he uses the camera to move with the same action as somebody handing another person a paper, instead of just the usual thing in big-time Hollywood, and blowing it up. Also, there is a lot of very good writing here as it seems all so realistic as it goes along with the scene.

The problem with this film is that its pacing in the middle is a little off. The beginning is energetic and entertaining, but in the middle the film starts to drag. The ending I had a lot of problems with, one because it ends with this random bolt of violence that we don’t see once throughout the whole film until then, and two because it just seems like the big twist at the end was a little tacked on. I will say it did throw me off a bit, but it didn’t feel right in this story and just added on to put in more shocking things to happen.

Baker Hall is just without a doubt so mesmerizing in this role, and I’m just so surprised to see how some performance of this nature, and of this talent couldn’t land him any more big roles. Samuel L. is basically as crazy as usual but I would have liked to see more from his character until he just randomly starts more combustion near the end of the film.

Consensus: Hard Eight is an impressive debut from PT Anderson, with great performances, catchy writing, and a wonderful character study, but misses the mark with its pacing, and its random use of its ending.


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