A professional gambler takes a protégé under his wing, only to be pulled
into a situation when his young friend falls for a cocktail waitress.
Hard Eight (1996)
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow,
Samuel L. Jackson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the masters of character-driven drama. He seems like one of those guys who's always been there, and it's hard to believe he's only directed eight films so far. Hard Eight was his first, and already you feel like your in the hands of a brilliant storyteller who knows his craft. This film is a stellar debut for PTA and a fantastic thriller in its own right. It's awesome to see a longtime character actor like Philip Baker Hall excel as a leading man, especially with a character as complex and intriguing as Sydney.
Sydney is a professional gambler with more than a few secrets. Out of the blue, he approaches John (Reilly), a down-on-his-luck young man sitting outside a diner. Sydney offers to show John a better way to gamble, one that gives John the chance to be a high roller in his own right. The two become friends for years, as John becomes a talented grifter and falls in love with Clementine (Paltrow), a cocktail waitress/prostitute. When some serious shit goes down, Sydney helps John and Clementine escape the law, but finds himself trapped in a blackmailing scheme by Jimmy (Jackson), a casino vulture who knows Sydney's dark secret. It's all engaging and just moves like butter.
Anderson would go onto have a pretty self-indulgent 90's, with giant productions like Boogie Nights and Magnolia, both of which are great films. But his impressive career started here, with a solid gambling thriller that'll keep you enthralled by the characters and the impressive storytelling.