When straight-shooting professional gambler Sydney (Baker Hall) happens across the young, down-on-his-luck John (Reilly), he takes him under his wing. Two years later, the two have forged a successful partnership and father-son bond, but after an eventful evening with John’s waitress-prostitute girlfriend (Paltrow) goes wrong, everything changes…
While it’s tempting to compare Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut to Quentin Tarantino, given the nineties noir vibe, diner chats and presence of Samuel L. Jackson as a chatty badass, that would be doing it an injustice. No, Hard Eight doesn’t concern itself with kitsch references and rambling, pop culture-peppered conversations, but instead introduces us to Anderson’s trademarks (nice camerawork, a challenging score) and recurring themes (chance, loneliness, regret, redemption) as part of a low-key character drama-come-Vegas thriller. Bolstered by a great cast (Philip Baker Hall, in particular, is terrific), it’s a solid start for one of Hollywood’s most gifted and consistently impressive auteurs.
Part low-key character drama, part Vegas thriller, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight remains a solid debut.