Review by Michael Jacobson
Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 101 Minutes
Release Date: October 5, 1999
Paul Thomas Anderson makes a film the way a master chef
prepares an extraordinary meal. While
he’s cooking up his secrets in the kitchen, he teases you with the aroma, and
while he feeds you the scrumptious appetizers, you know all the while that the
main entrée is still to come. When
it comes, its both surprising and savory, and just when you think you’re too
full for dessert, he brings it out, and it’s too good to pass up.
Hard Eight, Anderson’s
predecessor to his acclaimed and amazing Boogie
Nights, is a superb character driven drama, and the only Las Vegas movie I
can remember that uses the city strictly as background, rather than letting it
dominate certain aspects of the film. The
story centers around an unusual relationship between two men, the older, wiser
Sidney (Hall) and the younger, more impetuous John (Reilly).
They meet outside a coffee house, where Sidney senses that John’s is
another of the many hard luck stories that make up the painful margins of Vegas
life. He offers him a cup of coffee
and a cigarette, and for reasons unexplained (at first), offers to take John
back to the city and show him a thing or two about how to work the casino
Their friendship grows over a two year period, with John
obviously endeavoring to be more and more like Sidney in his own life…he
dresses like him, orders the same drink…but unfortunately for him, he cannot
master the same kind of coolness Sidney has.
Sidney seems to have fallen into a pattern of rescuing John from his
mistakes. Soon, they face a rather
sticky crisis involving waitress/hooker Clementine (Paltrow) and a rather seedy
friend of John’s named Jimmy (Jackson). And
given the way Anderson masterfully leads his audience through his story,
that’s as much plot information as I can give out.
I have to say that Sidney is one of the most fascinating
characters I’ve seen in some time. There’s
an aura of mystery about him, but it’s not overplayed.
He seems to be a class act, a good man, and one can only wonder what his
penchant for gambling is all about. He’s
not the typical gambling addict, nor does he seem to make a living at it.
It’s something he does, and understands, and it’s just a part of his
life that he just accepts, even though it constantly puts him in the company of
characters you’d think he’d rather not be around. He is a cool head in a crisis, though he lets on that there
just might be something more dangerous underneath the surface.
He speaks plainly, and to the point, without playing the kind of word
games that those around him constantly seem to engage in.
This is a stellar acting job from Philip Baker Hall.
But all of the cast members rise to the challenge…John C.
Reilly is a relaxed natural on screen who helps bring a good sense of
give-and-take to his scenes with Hall. Samuel
L. Jackson brings just the right mix of humor and edginess to Jimmy, and Gwyneth
Paltrow presents Clementine as a sad and frustrated woman trying to make her
life work the best ways she knows how.
And not enough can be said about filmmaker Anderson.
One, he has a great feel for natural dialogue, and as such, his
characters are a pleasure to listen to. When
they speak, it’s real talk, about real concerns and real thoughts.
Two, his sense of direction is impeccable.
He brings a wonderful sense of rhythm and timing into his pictures.
He maintains a good sense of energy throughout, rather than spending it
all in a few bursts of power and leaving long empty gaps of lifeless celluloid,
as some directors can be guilty of. And
he’s a consummate master of the tracking shot.
Not only are they technically well performed, they all serve a purpose,
to establish scenes and scenarios, and to create the rhythm he’s looking for.
He’s one of the few directors that can achieve a rhythmic sense with
both long shots and careful editing.
Hard Eight was a
definite indication of a young, talented filmmaker’s blossoming genius, and
this film, together with Boogie Nights, leads
me to believe we can expect a lot more cinema magic from Paul Thomas Anderson.
Outstanding quality! This is a triumph for Columbia Tri Star. Images are perfectly sharp and crisp throughout, and the color rendering is extraordinary, blending the bright, colorful night life scenes of the casinos with the natural presentation of flesh tones and other shades. Some of the night scenes are breathtaking, with various colored neon signs and flashing chaser lights against the black night, and there are no instances of bleeding or distortion.
The surround soundtrack is mostly low key, but watch
out…Anderson delivers one or two dynamic punches that may just rock you back
in your seat. The rear stage is sparingly but effectively used.
Not one, but two commentary tracks are included, as well as
two trailers, a deleted scene, and some early Sundance festival test shots for
scenes that would eventually appear in Hard