‘Hard Eight’ Revisited

Forgotten DVDs

         
 

24 September 2012| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

“Never ignore a man’s courtesy.” – Sydney 

The first Paul Thomas Anderson feature. Hard Eight (1997) has technical cleverness for a low-budget indie, but it does crucially benefit from the casting of Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson as Jimmy. The movie is more than a genre homage, it’s the real stuff since Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “The Master”) seems to know in detail the beat and language of street hustlers and gamblers. The original title was “Sydney,” so close to becoming released with that title that theatrical posters were printed.

Sydney is the name of the old hood played by Hall. Self-assured, you’d hardly guess that he needs anybody in this life. But he picks up a penniless drifter with face buried in lap outside of a coffee shop. He offers to buy this drifter John (Reilly) some breakfast, and to pitch him an offer. He teaches him a scheme on how to get a Las Vegas room by manipulating a player’s rate card. This is the beginning of a long friendship, one of mentor and protégé.

Sound motifs are important in the film, you might recognize the chime-bells beckoning hell – the same gong sound used in “Boogie Nights.” We hear it at the opening when Sydney and John meet. And again, to signal that perhaps Sydney has gone too far in befriending someone unwisely. Sydney is shrewd, street smart and poised. Which has us wondering why he would position himself to be in the middle of trouble with people beneath him.

Paltrow’s character is a cocktail waitress who moonlights as a hooker. Jackson is a small-time hood with a suitcase full of guns, and is generally badass in a way that Morgan Freeman was in “Street Smart” (1987). Sydney wants small things from these people, one of these things is respect, which he earns with subtlety. His generosity is noted, but by the end, you realize that he’s buying something back that isn’t paper currency.

“Hard Eight” isn’t the master symphony of Paul Thomas Anderson, but it is an interesting and savvy little film. If you’re looking to be a completist of his work, then it’s something you have to catch up to. And another Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffman pops up, and this I promise is the only time you will see him with a mullet.

93 Minutes. Rated R.

STREET DRAMA / MOODY CHARACTER STUDY / MONDAY-THURSDAY NIGHT DRAMA

Film Cousins: “Mean Streets” (1973); “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (1976); “The Color of Money” (1986); “Boogie Nights” (1997).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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