Hard Eight (originally titled Sydney[2]) is a 1996 American crime film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson in his feature directorial debut, and starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson. It is the expansion of the short film Cigarettes & Coffee. The film follows the life of a senior gambler and a homeless man. It premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[3]

Hard Eight
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Thomas Anderson
Written byPaul Thomas Anderson
Based onCigarettes & Coffee
by Paul Thomas Anderson
Produced byRobert Jones
John Lyons
CinematographyRobert Elswit
Edited byBarbara Tulliver
Music byJon Brion
Michael Penn
Distributed by
Release dates
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million
Box office$222,559[1]



Sydney Brown, a well-dressed senior gambler, finds John Finnegan, a homeless man, forlornly sitting outside a diner in Sparks, Nevada. He offers him a cigarette and buys him a cup of coffee. John tells Sydney that he lost the money in Las Vegas and he needs $6,000 for his mother's funeral. They travel to Vegas, where Sydney helps John win the money. Two years later, John becomes Sydney's protégé. Sydney is calm and reserved, and displays a fatherly care for John, who is unsophisticated. John has a new friend named Jimmy, who does security work. John is attracted to Clementine, a cocktail waitress in Reno. Sydney meets Clementine, and learns that she moonlights as a prostitute. Although Clementine believes Sydney might want to use her services, he wants to build a connection between her and John. Sydney asks John to show Clementine around the town.

After receiving a frantic phone call, Sydney finds John and Clementine holding an unconscious tourist hostage in a nearby motel because he did not pay Clementine for sex. Sydney learns that John and Clementine have called the hostage's wife, threatening to kill him if they do not get the money. After finding Jimmy's gun, Sydney convinces John and Clementine to flee the motel, advising them to leave town for a honeymoon as they have recently been impulsively married. While leaving, Sydney removes the evidence from the motel room.

Sydney meets with Jimmy, who tells him that the couple did not call the police. However, Jimmy explains that he has heard stories of Sydney killing John's father in Atlantic City. Jimmy pulls a gun on Sydney and threatens to tell John unless Sydney gives him $10,000. Sydney says that he does not have it, but he can give $6,000 cash. They go to Jimmy's suite, and down to the casino floor, where Sydney gets the money from the cashier and gives it to Jimmy. John calls Sydney from a roadside phone to update him on their honeymoon trip. During the call, Sydney tells John that he loves him like a son. After hearing that, he thanks him and says that he also loves him. Sydney sneaks into Jimmy's house, kills him and retrieves the money. The next day, Sydney returns to the diner where he met John and covers his bloodstained shirt cuff with a jacket sleeve.



Some of Anderson's collaborative actors appear in the film, including Philip Seymour Hoffman as a craps player and Melora Walters as Jimmy's girlfriend.



Originally titled Sydney, it was Anderson's first feature film and the expansion of the short film Cigarettes & Coffee.[4][5] The main character Sydney was named after Hall's previous role in Midnight Run. Hall, Walters, Reilly and Hoffman later starred in Boogie Nights and Magnolia.

Anderson said that he cast Hoffman in a supporting role after seeing him in Scent of a Woman.[6] According to Hall, Hoffman improvised most of the dialogue his character says in his only scene in the film.[7]



The film premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[8] In 2018, Anderson said he was working on a Blu-ray release of the film.[9] An Australian Blu-ray was released by Viavision in October 2020 with two commentaries, a deleted scene and footage from the Sundance Institute Filmmaker Lab.[10]



Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four, writing "Movies like Hard Eight remind me of what original, compelling characters the movies can sometimes give us."[11] Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote "Hard Eight is not a movie that wants to make a grand statement. It is really little more than a small resonant mood piece whose hard-bitten characters are difficult to like. But within its self-imposed limitations, it accomplishes most of what it sets out to do. And the acting is wonderfully understated, economical and unsentimental."[12] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 82% based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "An absorbing showcase for Philip Baker Hall, Paul Thomas Anderson's feature debut is a gamble that pays off handsomely."[13] It is described by some authors as a neo-noir film.[14]

See also



  1. ^ Hard Eight at Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ "Paul Thomas Anderson's 'Hard Eight', AKA 'Sydney': "It's Always Good to Meet a New Friend" • Cinephilia & Beyond". Cinephilia & Beyond. 2020-09-10. Archived from the original on 2020-09-21. Retrieved 2020-09-19.
  3. ^ Conrad, Mark T. The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, 2009. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 081319217X.
  4. ^ Mottram, James (2006). The Sundance Kids : how the mavericks took back Hollywood. NY: Faber & Faber, Inc. p. 129. ISBN 9780865479678.
  5. ^ Waxman, Sharon R. (2005). Rebels on the backlot: six maverick directors and how they conquered the Hollywood studio system. HarperCollins. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-06-054017-3.
  6. ^ Brevet, Brad (April 14, 2014). "Paul Thomas Anderson Remembers First Working with Philip Seymour Hoffman". Comingsoon.net. Retrieved November 15, 2023.
  7. ^ Newman, Jason (February 3, 2014). "Philip Baker Hall Remembers 'Genius' Philip Seymour Hoffman". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 13, 2024.
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Hard Eight". Cannes Film Festival. Archived from the original on January 19, 2012. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Anderson, Paul Thomas (January 16, 2018). "I'm Paul Thomas Anderson, writer and director of PHANTOM THREAD, AMA!". IAmA. Reddit. Archived from the original on November 4, 2021. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  10. ^ Rosendorff, Kat (2021-08-24). "Hard Eight (1996) - Standard Edition | Via Vision Entertainment". viavision.com.au. Retrieved 2021-11-25.
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 27, 1997). "Hard Eight". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Archived from the original on July 8, 2013. Retrieved September 7, 2013.
  12. ^ Holden, Stephen (February 28, 1997). "Suspense-Filled Puzzle Draped in a Dark Mood". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 12, 2018. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  13. ^ Hard Eight at Rotten Tomatoes.
  14. ^ Conard, Mark T.; ed. (2009). The Philosophy of Neo-Noir. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 081319217X.