Hard Eight (film)

Hard Eight is a 1996 American crime film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson in his feature directorial debut. It stars Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson, with brief appearances by Robert Ridgely, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Melora Walters.[2]

Hard Eight
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Thomas Anderson
Produced byRobert Jones
John Lyons
Written byPaul Thomas Anderson
Music byJon Brion
Michael Penn
CinematographyRobert Elswit
Edited byBarbara Tulliver
Distributed byThe Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release date
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million
Box office$222,559[1]


Sydney, a senior gambler, finds a young man, John, sitting forlornly at the diner, and offers to give him a cigarette and a cup of coffee. Sydney learns that John has lost the money, while gambling in a futile attempt to win $6,000 and pay for his mother's funeral. Sydney and John move to Las Vegas, in order to get a free room for the night. Though skeptical, John agrees to go. There, Sydney advances $150 to John and teaches him how to comp hustle the casino, by posing as a compulsive gambler with the amount money. John gets his free room, dinner and a pair of show tickets to boot. He is ecstatic, but Sydney points out that he has only solved his problem for a night.

Two years later, John has become Sydney's protégé, and a successful gambler in Reno. He has made enough to pay for his mother's funeral. Sydney notes that John has become attracted to a casino cocktail waitress, Clementine. John introduces Sydney to Jimmy, who does internal security work at the casino. Jimmy speaks disrespectfully of women, and Sydney takes an instant dislike to him. Sydney and Clementine visit the diner, where he learns that she moonlights as a prostitute. Sydney gives her a good tip and leaves. It is near the end of Clementine's shift. Sydney does not go home, but waits outside until Clementine appears. She accompanies Sydney to the apartment he shares with John. There, Clementine is surprised that Sydney does not want to sleep with her. Instead, he makes her comfortable in John's room. He says that John will sleep elsewhere.

The next day, after reassuring an anxious John that he did not have sex with Clementine, Sydney sends the two to have them go shopping. That night, Sydney is wakened by a frantic phone call from John, who begs for his help, but will not tell Sydney what kind of help, or why it is needed. Sydney goes to the motel. He finds John and Clementine in one of the rooms, with a bleeding, unconscious man handcuffed to the bed. John says the man is a "hostage." He was a client of Clementine's who refused to pay $300 for her. The tension is heightened, because John and Clementine called the hostage's wife to demand the money of her. Apart from that, the pair have no other plan of how to terminate the situation. John has a gun in his belt and Sydney asks him to hand it over. He opens the revolver and notes that it is unloaded.

Sydney tells them that the wife is not going to bring the money. She is probably already called the police and they are probably already on the way. Sydney says that they have got to leave, but Clementine cannot budge. She is not going to leave without the money. She will not listen to reason and John will not leave without her. He reveals that they got married today. Sydney tries a new tack, asking Clementine if she loves John. She nods in agreement.

Sydney moves about the room, clearing it of fingerprints and other evidence, as he calms the pair, telling John and Clementine to get out of town—to head to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. He will notify the casino of their elopement and that Clementine will return to her job after the honeymoon. The man in the bed starts to waken. Sydney hits him on the head with a hard object and the man blacks out again. He persuades Clementine to give him the handcuff key, which he uses to free the man's hands. As they leave the room, John and Clementine head for Niagara Falls, while Sydney goes to the apartment. En route, he drops the gun and handcuff down a sewer. In the apartment he finds a threatening note from Jimmy, demanding that they meet.

At the meeting, Jimmy reveals that he had worked security in Atlantic City for the past years. He knew and heard something about certain mob figures. Jimmy knows that Sydney was then a mobster. He learned that Sydney killed John's father. Jimmy threatens to tell John that Sydney killed his father, unless Sydney gives him $10,000. Jimmy pulls a gun and threatens to blow Sydney away, unless he pays the money. Sydney says he will get the money that night and give it to Jimmy, but it'll be $6,000, all that he has. After Sydney turns the money over to Jimmy, Jimmy dresses up and heads to a casino, where he plays craps winning a $2,000 bet on a Hard Eight.

Sydney breaks into Jimmy's rooms, searches and finds the cache of guns. He removes one, loads it, sits in a chair and waits. Near dawn, Jimmy arrives in a festive mood with a girl. As he starts to unzip his pants, he sees Sydney with the gun. Refusing to hesitate, Sydney shoots and kills Jimmy. while the frantic girl leaves the room. Sydney finds and takes the money from Jimmy's pocket.

While returning home, Sydney receives a phone call from John. He says he has something important to tell him. He tells him that he loves him. At the other end, John is visibly moved. He recovers his speech and says that he loves Sydney too. After the call, Sydney leaves Reno. He returns to the diner, where he covers the blood on the shirt cuff with the jacket sleeve.




The film, originally titled Sydney, was Anderson's first feature, and was expanded from the principal idea of his short film Cigarettes & Coffee.[3][4] Hard Eight was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[5] Hall, Reilly, Ridgely and Walters later appeared in the director's subsequent films, and Hoffman had a role in all but one released during his lifetime. The film's main character, Sydney, was named after the appearance from the previous film Midnight Run.


Anderson has said he is working on a Blu-ray release of the film.[6]


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."[7] 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."[8]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 83%, based on 36 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9/10. The site's consensus states: "An absorbing showcase for Philip Baker Hall, Paul Thomas Anderson's feature debut is a gamble that pays off handsomely."[9] Hard Eight has been described by some authors as a neo-noir film.[10]


  1. ^ Hard Eight at Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ Conrad, Mark T. The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, 2009. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 081319217X.
  3. ^ Mottram, James (2006). The Sundance Kids : how the mavericks took back Hollywood. NY: Faber & Faber, Inc. p. 129. ISBN 9780865479678.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Hard Eight". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  6. ^ Anderson, Paul Thomas (January 16, 2018). "I'm Paul Thomas Anderson, writer and director of PHANTOM THREAD, AMA!". IAmA. Reddit.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 27, 1997). "Hard Eight". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC.
  8. ^ Holden, Stephen (February 28, 1997). "Suspense-Filled Puzzle Draped in a Dark Mood". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Hard Eight at Rotten Tomatoes.
  10. ^ Conard, Mark T.; ed. (2009). The Philosophy of Neo-Noir. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 081319217X.

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