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Hard Eight (1996)

Sydney (original title)
Professional gambler Sydney teaches John the tricks of the trade. John does well until he falls for cocktail waitress Clementine.

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2 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »

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Five people's lives that are curiously intertwined happen to all be at a diner at the same time. An old man (Hall) gives advice to a young man (Baltz) about his cheating wife and best ... See full summary »

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Kirk Baltz, Philip Baker Hall, Scott Coffey
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
...
Hostage
...
Young Craps Player (as Phillip Seymour Hoffman)
Nathanael Cooper ...
Restroom Attendant
Wynn White ...
Waitress
Robert Ridgely ...
Keno Bar Manager
Kathleen Campbell ...
Keno Girl
Michael J. Rowe ...
Pit Boss
Peter D'Allesandro ...
Bartender
Steve Blane ...
Stickman
Xaleese ...
Cocktail Waitress
...
Jimmy's Girl
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Storyline

John has lost all his money. He sits outside a diner in the desert when Sydney happens along, buys him coffee, then takes him to Reno and shows him how to get a free room without losing much money. Under Sydney's fatherly tutelage, John becomes a successful small-time professional gambler, and all is well, until he falls for Clementine, a cocktail waitress and sometimes hooker. Written by Jon Reeves <jreeves@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

If you stay in the game long enough, you'll see everything, win everything, and lose everything. See more »

Genres:

Crime | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for strong language, some violence and sexuality | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

28 February 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Hard Eight  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Box Office

Budget:

$3,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$69,486 (USA) (28 February 1997)

Gross:

$142,356 (USA) (7 March 1997)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

When funds ran out, Paul Thomas Anderson used money New Line had advanced him for Boogie Nights (1997) and donations from his cast to raise the necessary $250,000 to finish the film. The film company Rysher signed off on Anderson's director cut on the proviso that he change the title to "Hard Eight". Although Anderson agreed to this change, it didn't stop Rysher from barely releasing the film. See more »

Goofs

Camera operator's shadow visible on the ground during the first scene where Sydney meets John (full-frame version only). See more »

Quotes

Jimmy: What I mean - what I believe... is that you killed his father... like the stories I heard go. Now, if somebody killed my father... I would feel the need to do something. The stories I heard - you know, stories get around - is that you used to be a hard-ass. You were a hard-ass and you took his dad out, Sydney. So you think - what? You can just walk through this life... without being punished for it? Shit, man. I know all those guys you know. Floyd Gondolli, Jimmy Gator, Mumbles O'Malley. They ...
[...]
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Soundtracks

Country's Cool
Written by Jim Jacobsen (uncredited)
Courtesy OGM/Old Georg Music, Hollywood, California
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User Reviews

 
Very intimate and compelling - a splendid debut for PT Anderson
20 June 2007 | by (Italy) – See all my reviews

Though he is best known for two ambitious ensemble pieces such as Boogie Nights and Magnolia, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson was first noticed thanks to a low-key, unpretentious character study, a gem called Sydney.

The film takes its title from the main character, a lonely elder man played by Philip Baker Hall. At a diner he runs into John (John C. Reilly), a poor fella who has just lost all his money. Sydney buys him coffee, and after a little chat he persuades him to come to Reno. Once there, they manage to get a free room and under Sydney's tutelage John quickly becomes a successful gambler. All's well until he falls in love with Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a waitress and part-time prostitute, and trouble ensues with a gangster named Jimmy, meaning Sydney will have to come up with something extreme to save his protégé.

For a first-time director Anderson shows great skills and confidence: even though he doesn't do much but follow four characters, he frames each shot to perfection and proves he is every bit as good as Scorsese at staging tracking shots (a thing he perfected on his next two features). But style doesn't really matter here: the important thing is that the audience cares for the story, and this essentially happens courtesy of sublime dialogue and great acting.

Anderson fought really hard to keep the movie's original title (and partially failed, which is why the film is known as Hard Eight in some countries), and the reason is clear from the beginning: the picture rests entirely on Hall's shoulders, and he carries it admirably. His performance is nuanced and genuine, and he manages to ensnare the viewer even when we are not sure what his motives are (and once they are revealed, it is not that important). Reilly is equally good, in a turn that opened his way to becoming one of the most reliable character actors in Hollywood, and the same intensity emerges from Paltrow and Jackson, the latter in particular adding extra dramatic flesh to what could have been a rehash of his more famous roles (Pulp Fiction etc.). Even Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has a brief but memorable role as a cocky gambler, gets his opportunity to shine, showing beyond any doubt that Anderson has a great eye for casting. He also knows how to write: the dialogue flows freely and seamlessly between the players, spawning some of the most affecting, realistic conversations ever heard in a movie, although the director can't resist the temptation to insert a couple of in-jokes as well (in one scene, Hall mentions two characters he wound up playing in Boogie Nights and Magnolia).

Overall, a very good film, and a must-see for PT Anderson fans: like many other directors who rose to fame in the '90s (Tarantino, Rodriguez, Bryan Singer) he proved right from the start what he was capable of, and has never disappointed the audience since that.


35 of 40 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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