Hard 8

on February 28, 1997 by Ed Scheid
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   "Hard 8" (aka "Sydney") is an extremely promising debut for American writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson. The film is a well-written character study set in the casino world of Reno. At Cannes, Anderson said that "Hard 8" had been influenced by John Cassavetes, Jonathan Demme's "Melvin and Howard" and the French film noir "Bob le Flambeur." Illustrious models to be sure, but ones the young writer/director very nearly lives up to.
   John ("Georgia's" John C. Reilly) is sitting forlornly on the curb. He's so broke he even needs money for his mother's funeral. A well-dressed stranger named Sydney (Philip Baker Hall, who played Nixon in Altman's "Secret Honor") takes John under his wing. He becomes John's mentor and teaches him about casino gambling. With Sydney's support, John's life improves, but he never learns self-control and is easily manipulated by everyone else. Anderson's screenplay is full of superb dialogue and has some unexpected twists. While focusing on the complicated relationships of his characters, Anderson's direction successfully makes a virtue of necessity, conveying a seedy casino atmosphere on the film's mall budget. The four main actors (Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson flesh out the cast as other figures in John's life) are impressive, with Hall's performance especially memorable.    Starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson. Directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson. Produced by Robert Jones and John Lyons. A Goldwyn release. Drama. Running time: 93 min. Screened in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes; the film opens in America in Jan. 1997.
Tags: Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Jones, John Lyons, A Goldwyn release, Drama, casino, gamling, money, funeral, virtue
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