Hard Eight (film)

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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]

Hard Eight is a 1996 American neo-noir crime thriller film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and starring 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]


Sydney, a gambler in his 60s, finds a young man, John, sitting forlornly outside a diner, on the road to Las Vegas, and offers to give him a cigarette and buy him a cup of coffee. John reluctantly accepts. Asking probing questions, Sydney learns that John has lost all his money while gambling in Las Vegas in a futile attempt to win $6,000 to pay for his mother's funeral. Sydney offers to drive John to Las Vegas and show him how to get a free room for the night, as well as a free dinner. Though skeptical, John agrees to go. In Vegas, Sydney advances $150 to John and teaches him how to scam the casino, by posing as a compulsive gambler with lots of money to blow. John gets his free room, dinner and a pair of show tickets to boot. He's ecstatic, but Sydney points out that he's only solved his problem for the one night.

Two years later, in Reno, John has become Sydney's protégé, and a successful gambler. He's made enough to pay for his mother's funeral, and more. Sydney notes that John has become attracted to a casino cocktail waitress, named 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.

Later, Sydney is waited on by Clementine. He asks her probing questions, much as he did when he first encountered John. Sydney learns that she moonlights as a prostitute. Sydney gives her a good tip, and leaves. It's near the end of Clementine's shift. Sydney does not go home, but waits outside until Clementine appears. Clementine 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 tonight.

The next day, after reassuring an anxious John that he did not have sex with Clementine, Sydney sends the happy pair off to have a day of fun and shopping together.

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's needed. Sydney gets up, dresses, and drives to a 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's a client of Clementine's who refused to pay her the $300 owed. 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. Sydney takes it away from John, expertly releases the bullets and pockets the gun.

Sydney tells them that the wife isn't going to bring them money. She's probably already called the police. The police are probably already on the way. He says that they've got to get out and get away from here. But Clementine won't budge. She's not going to leave without her money. She won't listen to reason and John won't leave without her. He reveals that they got married today. Clementine is his wife. Sydney tries a new tack. He asks 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'll 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 handcuffs key, which he uses to free the man's hands.

Sydney, John and Clementine leave the room and go to their cars. John and Clementine head for Niagara Falls, and Sydney for his apartment. En route, he drops the gun and handcuffs down a sewer. In the apartment, he finds a threatening note from Jimmy, demanding that they meet.

At the meeting, Jimmy reveals that, years ago, he'd worked security in Atlantic City. He knew, or heard something, about certain mob figures. Jimmy knows that Sydney was then a mobster. He'd heard 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 instantly.

Sydney says he'll 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 gambles much of it away.

Sydney breaks into Jimmy's rooms, searches, and finds Jimmy's 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. Sydney does not hesitate. He pumps 4 or 5 bullets into Jimmy, who goes down, dead. Sydney orders the frantic girl out and she hurriedly escapes. Sydney finds what's left of his money in Jimmy's pocket, and takes it.

Sydney goes home and packs. He receives a phone call from John. Sydney says he has something important to tell John. 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 met John. There's a spot of blood on his shirt cuff. He pulls the jacket sleeve down to cover it up.




The film, originally titled Sydney, was Anderson's first feature, and was expanded from the principal idea of Anderson's short film Cigarettes & Coffee (1993).[3][4] Hard Eight was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[5] Hall, Reilly, Ridgely, and Walters have regularly appeared in the director's subsequent films, and the late Hoffman had a role in all but one released during his lifetime. Hard Eight's central character, Sydney, was inspired by the character of the same name (also played by Philip Baker Hall) in the 1988 film Midnight Run.


Paul Thomas 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.[9]


  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.

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