Hard Eight (film)

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Hard Eight
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Produced by Hans Brockmann
François Duplat
Keith Samples
Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Philip Baker Hall
John C. Reilly
Gwyneth Paltrow
Samuel L. Jackson
Music by Jon Brion
Michael Penn
Cinematography Robert Elswit
Edited by Barbara Tulliver
Distributed by The Samuel Goldwyn Company[1]
Release dates
  • February 28, 1997 (1997-02-28) (United States)
Running time
102 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million
Box office $222,559[2]

Hard Eight is a 1996 American neo-noir crime thriller film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson. There are also brief appearances by Robert Ridgely, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Melora Walters.[3]

The film, originally titled Sydney, was Anderson's first feature; Hall, Reilly, Ridgely, Hoffman and Walters acted in Anderson's subsequent films. It was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[4] The film was expanded from the principal idea of Anderson's short film Cigarettes & Coffee (1993).[5][6]


Sydney, a gambler in his 60s, finds a young man, John, sitting forlornly outside a diner and offers to give him a cigarette and buy him a cup of coffee. Sydney learns that John is trying to raise enough money for his mother's burial. He offers to drive him to Las Vegas and teach him how to make some money and survive. Skeptical at first, John agrees.

Two years later, John, having gotten the money for the funeral, has become Sydney's protégé. John has a new friend named Jimmy, who does security work, and is attracted to Clementine, a cocktail waitress in Reno.

Sydney encounters Clementine at night, learning she moonlights as a prostitute. Although Clementine believes Sydney might want to sleep with her, Sydney actually wants to set her up with John.

Sydney gets a frantic late-night phone call. John summons him to a motel. He arrives to find John and Clementine holding a hostage. He turns out to be a customer who refuses to pay Clementine for sex. John also reveals that he and Clementine eloped. The situation is dangerous, because John and Clementine have called the hostage's wife to demand $300. They do not have a plan, and they have beaten the hostage badly.

Sydney manages to smooth the situation over. He then advises John and Clementine to leave town and head to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. After the two leave, Sydney is confronted by Jimmy, who threatens to tell John that Sydney killed John's father unless Sydney gives him money. Sydney pays up, but later sneaks into Jimmy's house and kills him. He then returns to the same diner where he met John. The film ends with Sydney covering up blood on his shirt cuff.



Reviewing the film shortly after its release, Roger Ebert wrote, "Movies like "Hard Eight" remind me of what original, compelling characters the movies can sometimes give us."[7] Stephen Holden 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]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 82% based on reviews from 34 critics.[9]


  1. ^ "Hard Eight (1996): Production Credits". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Hard Eight at Box Office Mojo.
  3. ^ Conrad, Mark T. The Philosophy of Neo-Noir, 2009. The University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 081319217X.
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Hard Eight". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-09-20. 
  5. ^ Mottram, James (2006). The Sundance Kids : how the mavericks took back Hollywood. NY: Faber & Faber, Inc. p. 129. ISBN 9780865479678. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 27, 1997). "Hard Eight". Chicago Sun Times. 
  8. ^ Holden, Stephen (February 28, 1997). "Hard Eight (1996): Suspense-Filled Puzzle Draped in a Dark Mood". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Hard Eight at Rotten Tomatoes.

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