Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hard Eight (1996) aka Sydney

When good luck is a long shot, you have to hedge your bets.

Talk about a more-than-impressive debut from a very important director, P.T. Anderson's "Hard Eight" hits all of the right notes at all of the right times. It's a film that's built around characters and dialogue rather than plot. It's a film that takes you for an unpredictable ride into the unknown and delivers a good time. Debuts come and go, but rarely do they come in top-form like this. A film noir filled with drama, humor and heart, "Hard Eight" is a very satisfying film that is enjoyable to watch.

Sydney is an old timer who used to be a successful gambler. He stumbles upon a not-so-lucky John, who is pretty much broke. Sydney unexpectedly takes him under his wing and helps him get back on his feet. The two become very close friends as time goes by and as John's winning streak improves more and more. However, John's going to need serious help from Sydney later on, and it's something that's a lot more serious than money troubles in this very involving film noir that is both thoughtful and dark.

As with the other P.T. Anderson films, I had no idea what to expect from this movie. And that's what's so great about him. No film is ever the same, and each film has a look and feel of its own. In no way could P.T. Anderson ever be a one-trick director. It is apparent that he has MANY tricks up his sleeves, and has only begun to reveal them to us.

The film certainly stands out from other debuts. It's got a strong cast, a smart screenplay, and a certain direction it wants to take. The film is complex, but not because of the plot. It is complex because the characters themselves are complex. That is what's so unique about the film. You want to take the time to get to know the characters. Not for story's sake, but because you actually want so know what makes each character tick. The acting is superb, and I don't use that term lightly. Philip Baker Hall steals the show and certainly does know his stuff. John C. Reilly also gives it his all, which leads to successful results. Everybody else is great too, but it's clear that the movie is a success because of those two particular actors. Still, it must be said that Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson are also very impressive in the movie as well.

The DVD has a few extras; not many, but enough to keep us happy. The picture and sound quality is really great. You have the choice of watching the movie in its original widescreen format or you can view it in fullscreen. Extras included are commentaries, trailers, a deleted scene, and Sundance Institute filmmaker lab scenes. Not the most explosive DVD package, but it gives enough to satisfy.

"Hard Eight" is a great film for many reasons. It's smart, involving, electric and powerful. This is not something to see if you're looking for a movie with lots of action, shoot-outs, car chases and so on. If you're looking for a smart film noir that's more focused on characters rather than plot, this is the film to check out. P.T. Anderson is an impressive filmmaker, and an important one as well. So far it's always been a joy to watch his movies. It may take time to get used to him, but once you give him the chance, he really grows on you. By Michael Crane

Torrent: here
All subs: here

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