Hard Eight, the directorial debut of Paul Thomas Anderson, screens just in time for its 25th anniversary as part of our Magnificent Andersons series.
Following in a long tradition of noirish Las Vegas pictures, the movie tells the story of broke and lonely John Finnegan (John C. Reilly). Having lost all his money gambling, John sits outside a highway diner panhandling when he encounters the articulate and sophisticated Sydney Brown. Played by Philip Baker Hall (in the first of three major collaborations with Anderson), Sydney is a more seasoned gambler that takes John on as a protege when he learns John has nowhere else to go. The familial bond that grows between them becomes more complicated by the arrival of Sydney’s old friend Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson at his prime) that suggests Sydney’s kindness to John isn’t as selfless as it seems.
Made when Anderson was just 25 years old, Hard Eight is now as old as its director. The richly observed characters and crossed emotional wiring of their stories foreshadow the type of layered filmmaking Anderson would go on to be known for.
“I like Reno, unlike Las Vegas, which is always so hot. Reno has a winter and the feeling of a real city – it’s like an Old West town. I think shooting Hard Eight in Reno enabled me to capture a state of mind that I wanted for this film.” – Paul Thomas Anderson
“Hard Eight is a small, deceptively complex story that yields its secrets and nuances in carefully metered doses. Each new revelation changes our perspective on what has come before, as well as our sense of the possible outcomes.” – Russell Smith, Austin Chronicle
“There turns out to be a kind of a plot . . . There is even a secret from the past, although not the one we expect. But the movie isn’t about a plot. It’s about these specific people in this place and time, and that’s why it’s so good: It listens and sees. It observes, and in that it takes its lead from Sydney, who is a student of human nature and plays the cards of life very, very close to his vest.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times