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Hard Eight

It was time to ensure that I had seen all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, so I went back to his first feature film, Hard Eight. Philip Baker Hall plays Sydney, a well-off gambler who chances upon John (John C. Reilly), a bum who is sitting outside a restaurant trying to figure out how to get money for his mother’s funeral. Sydney takes him under his wing and to Vegas where John learns the trade. The film doesn’t have the same sophisticated narrative structure that his later films would have, but what it does have is some really fascinating and memorable characters, which is a PTA trademark. Anderson gets some remarkable performances from Hall, Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow (who plays a waitress and hooker), and Samuel Jackson, who plays John’s shady friend Jimmy. The film is lmore about character development than plot, although the reason Sydney approaches John becomes clearer as the story evolves. Thumbs up for the film that launched the career of probably one of the finest contemporary American filmmakers. (1995; 4 Stars)

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