Sight and Sound - 01/01/1998
"...Evocative, memorable....In HARD EIGHT, Anderson and his brilliant quartet prove that they know a great many questions..."
USA Today - 03/13/1997
"...Jackson play one of his scarier characters....[Hall is] superb here..." -- 3 out of 4 stars
Variety - 02/05/1996
"Four excellent lead performances, vividly evoked ambience and a masterfully sustained mood of quiet desperation mark SYDNEY as an impressive piece of work..."
New York Times - 02/28/1997
"...[A] beautifully controlled, slow-moving film....The acting is wonderfully understated, economical and unsentimental..."
Los Angeles Times - 02/28/1997
"...A perfectly modulated mystery....With some terrific hand-held camera work by Robert Elswit..."
Chicago Sun-Times - 02/28/1997
"...It's about these specific people in this place and time, and that's why it's so good: It listens and sees....[Hall gives] another great performance..."
Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), a mysterious professional gambler, befriends John (John C. Reilly), a young man in trouble, and teaches him the ways of making a living in the casinos of Reno. John gets involved with Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a pretty waitress who doubles as a prostitute, and Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson), a two-faced criminal. When trouble erupts, suddenly Sydney has to rescue his young friend, but a secret from his past threatens to destroy everything he has tried to build up.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson's highly acclaimed debut feature (based on the films of Jonathan Demme and John Cassavetes) is a tight, intricate film noir character study with a more disciplined plot than his later, more expansive films. The film also features excellent work from his four actors, particularly Hall as the experienced, world-weary Sydney, and fascinating details about the lowlife world the characters inhabit. HARD EIGHT originated as a short film, CIGARETTES AND COFFEE, that Anderson developed at the Sundance Film Institute.
HARD EIGHT is a tale of greed, murder, and deceit in Las Vegas. When an ex-hit man turned professional gambler takes on a young protégé, he deals into more than he expected when the younger man brings aboard a part-time hooker and a two-bit swindler, both with agendas of their own.
HARD EIGHT originally premiered in September 1996 at the Deauville Film Festival under director Paul Thomas Anderson's preferred title, SYDNEY, which was changed by the studio executives.
Much of HARD EIGHT originated from the short film, CIGARETTES AND COFFEE, which Anderson made in 1993, which led to a fellowship at the Sundance Film Institute.
Anderson wrote much of this film with John C. Reilly in mind even before the two had ever met.
Anderson's father, Ernie Anderson, can be seen in the film, as one of the people in the "pants on fire" scene.
In one scene, Jimmy tells Sydney about people they both know, and lists the names Floyd Gondolli, Jimmy Gator, and Mumbles O'Malley. Actor Philip Baker Hall played Floyd Gondolli in BOOGIE NIGHTS and Jimmy Gator in MAGNOLIA.