Classic Review : Hard Eight aka Sydney (1996)

IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 82%
Netflix Instant Watch

Directed By – Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring – Phillip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Samuel L. Jackson

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.

This may be the first time on this website that I’ve mentioned my adoration for Paul Thomas Anderson. I’ll cut to the chase. I think he’s the best working director in the business and I honestly believe he is the second coming of Stanley Kubrick. I’ve seen Magnolia and There Will Be Blood over ten times each and The Master, while confusing and frustrating at first, is now one of my favorite films of the last five years. From the composition of his shots to the construction of his screenplays, I just don’t think there is another director that can keep up with him. That being said, I enjoyed the shit out of the only film of his I have yet to see until tonight.

Phillip Baker Hall plays Sydney and plays him well. PTA crafted a very intimate and deep character study of the man named Sydney. At first you really can’t get a grip on why he is helping out this young kid who is face down in his hands outside of a waffle house. He takes the kid, played well by John C. Reilly, and basically teaches him how to make money in the casino business. What follows is roller coaster of a film that really gets into fact that our past lives can always come back up given the right circumstances.

Phillip Baker Hall is one of my favorite actors. I thought he was the best part of Magnolia and is always showing up in great films as supporting characters who completely steal the scenes they are in. I still think his work as Jimmy Gator in Magnolia is his best work but he was fantastic in this. As the leading man, he carries the entire film from start to finish. We see his transformation coming from absolutely nowhere due to his complete lack of hard emotion and nearly deadpan delivery of all his lines. If you look hard enough though, you can see a brooding sadness behind his eyes at all times. It’s truly a wonderful performance. Paltrow and Sam Jackson play their characters very well and the ending was earned and lasting.

Seeing the first film of my favorite director after all these years was an interesting experience and I’m going to have to revisit it again. It reminds me of watching Blood Simple and realizing that the Coen brothers have been talented since they first put a camera on somebody. The same can be said of PTA. He’s still a young guy and will hopefully be making flawless cinema for decades to come.


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