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Hard Eight Movie Review

sydney john hall anderson

Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is a man of mystery from the moment we first lay eyes on him. He's about 64 and he looks it. He's led a tough life which he doesn't discuss. He knows the rules of every game, but doesn't say how he learned them. He meets John (John C. Reilly) sitting outside a coffee shop and picks him up like a stray dog. John, who's lost all his money gambling to pay for his mother's funeral, is deeply suspicious of Sydney at first, but lightens up as it becomes clear that Sydney loves him like a son. Professional gambler Sydney shows John the ropes in the Reno casinos; John's life is forever transformed for the better and he grows to love Sydney like a father. Two years pass. John falls in love with a waitress named Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow). Sydney loves her like a daughter and treats her like a princess. But Clementine moonlights as a hooker and Sydney disapproves of that. And John has a friend named Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) and Sydney disapproves of him even more. Jimmy knows things about Sydney and John and Clementine and he doesn't love any of them like a son or a father or a daughter. Sydney knows what Jimmy knows, but John and Clementine don't. That's the set-up in this jewel of a movie by Paul Thomas Anderson, who made Boogie Nights the following year. It's dominated by the mesmerizing performance of Philip Baker Hall. Hall gives Sydney the star power of Bogie or Cagney or Edward G. Robinson and the resonance of a man who's seen, heard, felt, tasted, and been it all and is gambling on his own redemption. We trust him and, what's more, Anderson makes us trust him as much as John and Clementine do. In his follow-up film, Anderson looked at the pornographic movie business through non-judgmental eyes. This splendidly acted film noir, on a much smaller canvas than Boogie Nights, is equally non-judgmental and every bit as fascinating. You'll remember Hall as Sydney in Hard Eight long after the film is over. If you want to check out more of his work on video, look for him in The Last Reunion, Secret Honor (as Nixon), Three O'Clock High, Blue Desert, Air Force One, The Truman Show, Sour Grapes, Rush Hour and, of course, Boogie Nights. John C. Reilly is also in Boogie Nights, as well as Missing Pieces, Touch and Go, We're No Angels, Casualties of War, State of Grace, Days of Thunder, Out on a Limb, Hoffa, The River Wild, Dolores Claiborne, Georgia, Boys, Nightwatch, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Household names Jackson and Paltrow continue to skid towards Oscar night with every new role they play. AKA: Sydney.

1996 (R) 101m/C Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, F. William Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nathanael Cooper, Wynn White, Robert Ridgely, Michael J. Rowe, Kathleen Campbell, Peter D'Allessandro, Steve Blane, Xaleese, Melora Walters, Jean Langer; D: Paul Thomas Anderson; W: Paul Thomas Anderson; C: Robert Elswit; M: Michael Penn, Jon Brion. Nominations: Independent Spirit Awards ‘98: Best Actor (Hall), Best Cinematography, Best First Feature, Best Supporting Actor (Jackson). VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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