Hard Eight

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

In the mid-90s a new generation of directors were coming out from all directions and no one made an impression more on his debut film than director Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson. He went on to some directorial success telling a dark tale in the porn film industry, many depressing tales combined with coincidence from different walks of life in California and a dark love story that won the hearts at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago. On his debut film, however, he tells the simple tale of two men, an old pro gambler and a young man who becomes his protege and in between them a man and a woman who influence them to make key decisions all in the bright city of Las Vegas that triggers a bet that goes from an easy one to a Hard Eight.

One day, John (John C. Reilly) is sitting outside a diner with his luck on it’s last pennies and nothing to do until an older man named Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) acknowledges him and invites him inside for a cigarette and some coffee. John shares his brief hard luck tale with Sydney and he listens with admiration but doesn’t think of his decision as a wise one. Sydney invites John to teach him a small lesson and maybe help him out in some way. This works out well for a few years until a intriguingly beautiful waitress named Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a suspicious character that befriends John (Samuel L. Jackson) come into his life. In the course of these two men, actions will be made and decisions will be final as they make choices that prove to be key both in the present and in their future.

This is a character-driven tale told very well by Anderson and the performances by all are some of the best work these actors have done woven in this simple but intriguing character tale. Philip Baker Hall is the star of this film and his face may look familiar in smaller parts in small and bigger films. Here he shines as Sydney, an older man with a past and a man that looks to gain enough with himself to find something he’s never had before. John C. Reilly plays the lovable lug John as a naive but needy man that’s a softie and longs for the best for himself. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Clementine as a waitress with a lot on her mind and a need to sleep with men and a guaranteed monetary reward at the end. Samuel L. Jackson plays the man who’s most suspicious of the four main people knowing a bit more about Sydney than any of the others know. Look out in this film for Anderson regular Philip Seymour Hoffmann in an amusing cameo as well as a blink-and-you’ll-miss cameo by Anderson’s father, Ernie Anderson in John’s flashback standing in line. He was well known for his voiceover work, particularly on ABC (“Next on the LOOOOVE BOAT”)

With all of that, DP Robert Elswit keeps the reputation of films made in Las Vegas alive with it’s vivid camerawork and it’s great sense of spontaneity in Sin City. All in all, Hard Eight is a solid directorial debut filled with punchy dialogue and a look that is hard to believe is an independent film.

Video: How does it look?

Hard Eight is shot wide and is beautifully anamorphically transferred to DVD in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The colors are gorgeous and the city of Las Vegas in all it’s hoopla and it’s downside never looked so bright in all it’s clarity. Most of the prints quality is high with only very few hints of grain but nothing to take away from it’s solid presentation. A very good transfer.

Audio: How does it sound?

The sound on Hard Eight is a solid track throughout. It’s a good mix of dialogue through the middle channels, score and effects which are spread out through the back channels. The dialogue comes out crisp without any muteness and the score and effects are appropriate in the Dolby Surround 2.0 track. The score, preceding the Boogie Nights background music and using some of the tracks, is pretty sweet and moving compliments Jon Brion and Michael Penn, brother of Sean and Christopher. Overall, not a mindblowing track but a well respectable one. This disc also has English and Spanish subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

There are a nice amount of extras on this Columbia/Tri-Star title. The menus are not interactive but have nice stills from the film.

There are two commentary tracks on this DVD, one from director Paul Thomas Anderson and Philip Baker Hall and the other with Anderson, Hall and Michelle Satter from the Sundance institute. Both commentaries are lively and full of some intriguing comments, dominated most by the director. I was first intrigued by watching him years ago on an episode of the show Independent Focus by his personality and it was pretty evident that was alive along with some nice side comments by Hall (on both tracks) and Satter (on the second track). It’s also good to note that the exit song on the end credits is different on the 2nd track than it is on the first track. It’s in fact the song that Anderson starts singing on the beginning of track #1. Both of them worthwhile entertaining tracks.

Then there is a deleted scene called “The Kiss” which is filmed in rough cut form and is a nice scene but was apparant why it was not included in the final film.

Another interesting extra is the Sundance Institute Filmmaker Lab Series that focus on three scenes from the film in rehearsal mode and a different actor playing the Jimmy part in one of the scenes. It’s a good piece and a good inclusion.

Finally, there are two theatrical trailers which are interesting but proof positive that character driven films are the most difficult thing to sell and should be seen to be experienced properly.

With it’s solid performances and dialogue, along with it’s simple form of storytelling, Hard Eight is a treasure for filmgoers and a sweet addition to any DVD collection.

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