Finally, finally watched this, so now I can call myself a Paul Thomas Anderson fanboy without hesitation or a lack of fulfillment. His 1996 debut feature, and a clear sign of the greatness to come. Slow-building, all about the deeply-interesting "Sydney," played by the superior veteran Philip Baker Hall.
What makes Sydney, an aged gambler marauding about Reno, Nevada, tick and tock? Why is he so unconditionally nice and fatherly to the drifter, "John," John C. Reilly's character? Where does all of Syd's money come from? There seems to be a darker subtext to his world, but is it just a facade?
Being a P.T. Anderson creation, nothing unfolds as expected, but all unfolds in compelling and entertaining stylee. There's Samuel L. Jackson reminding you of how fine an actor he really is, when not appearing in the LCD dreck he just can't say "No" to. You have Gwyneth Paltrow looking sexier than ever, and giving her hooker a see-saw of humanity and unconscious stupidity. And then, just for an added bonus of dope, there's Philip Seymour Hoffman sporting a sweet mullet, spewing profanities in a one-scene bit of craps trash-talking. Good stuff.
Written and directed by Anderson, when he was only like 26 years old (same age as I....jesus, talk about a kick in the ass), Hard Eight is the kind of mature noir-ish attention-holder where every scene and line of dialogue is worth a damn, and fully thought out. Nothing feels like filler, or unnecessary macguffin.
There Will Be Blood is still Anderson's Mona Lisa; Magnolia the Lisa's next-in-line, and Boogie Nights resting comfortably in third. Hard Eight is now atop Punch-Drunk Love. And almighty willin', we'll have a new P.T. project sooner than later. Dude takes way too long between efforts, if you ask me. But at least the wait(s) is/are never in vain.
Now I just need to get my hands on his Coffee & Cigarettes short, and then the circle will be complete.