A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Five people's lives that are curiously intertwined happen to all be at a diner at the same time. An old man (Hall) gives advice to a young man (Baltz) about his cheating wife and best ... See full summary »
Paul Thomas Anderson
Philip Baker Hall,
John has lost all his money. He sits outside a diner in the desert when Sydney happens along, buys him coffee, then takes him to Reno and shows him how to get a free room without losing much money. Under Sydney's fatherly tutelage, John becomes a successful small-time professional gambler, and all is well, until he falls for Clementine, a cocktail waitress and sometimes hooker.Written by
Jon Reeves <email@example.com>
A low key but effective film that is effortlessly carried by great performances
Sydney is an old gambler who shows kindness to a man he meets outside a diner. He helps out John by lending him £50 and then teaching him enough about gambling to make his way. Two years later finds John loyally sticking with John and adoring him. However, their relationship is put under pressure when John hooks up with Clementine, a cocktail waitress who also turns tricks and Jimmy, a low life with no respect for Sydney.
Although it was pretty badly treated in the UK and mostly ignored and overlooked, the success of Anderson's films since has given many a reason to look back on Hard Eight (the much better but less meaningful title given it for the UK release) and `discover' it. It certainly is an impressive film and it is difficult to see why it received neither financial or critic success when it was released. The plot is deceptive - starting as a character piece, changing violently with a series of twists and then reverting back to the character piece we started with.
The film is totally driven by it's characters and they are very well written to the point that we care about them even before we really know all about them. The title `Sydney' is more meaningful simply because the film is pretty much all about Sydney himself. He is a kind man and we wonder why but are gradually won over his gentle nature. This makes the second half of the film more thrilling simply because we think we know Sydney but then he has to do things we think are not in him. Anderson directs with a remarkable assurance; he has style and a real sense of framing. He mixes close ups with wider shots using the fluorescent lighting of the gambling joints to good effect - his direction is as good here as it was in his other, more acclaimed films.
The main thing that makes this film so good though, is the cast. Hall is excellent; I cannot stress how good he is here - his character is well written but it is Hall that makes it work so well with a performance that is subtle and controlled. Reilly is a great character actor and he does the same here with a hangdog expression and put upon attitude. Paltrow is very good for someone whom people seem to have forgotten can actually act. Her Clementine is more complex that first appears. However despite her good work, I think that Paltrow's limited screen time actually helps the film - she is not the focus here. Jackson is his usual cool self and turns in a memorable performance while Anderson even has a part for Hoffman.
I can imagine some people will not like this film: it is talky for long sections and it ends with questions to be answered - this may frustrate some people but for me I felt it allowed me to think for myself and use what I had learnt about Sydney. This is a surprisingly mature film from such a young director and one that you owe it to yourself to undercover in retrospect.
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