Hard Eight

1996 Drama

Before his commercial breakthrough with Boogie Nights (1997), writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson made this low-key drama. John (John C. Reilly), a half-bright loser stranded in Reno, is down to his last few bucks when Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall), taking pity on him, buys him breakfast and offers him a few tips on making money in the casinos. Two years later, John has become Sydney's partner, but his lack of common sense goes from problematic to dangerous when he falls in love with Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a cocktail waitress who isn't above turning a few tricks when she needs to make money -- and isn't any brighter than John. Hall and Reilly, both first-rate character actors, are cast in rare leading roles, and Paltrow is cast strongly against type as a part-time prostitute with a serious lack of street smarts.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Samuel L. Jackson, Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, F. William Parker


  • Anderson, who makes as impressive a directing debut as has been seen in some time, creates a perfectly modulated mystery that doesn't even feel like one. It's a character play, and Hall, Reilly and Paltrow are so convincingly damaged they take on the properties of fine china.

    John Anderson - Los Angeles Times

    19 January 2013

  • Movies like Hard Eight remind me of what original, compelling characters the movies can sometimes give us.

    Roger Ebert - The Chicago Sun-Times

    19 January 2013

  • The role of Jimmy is one of Mr. Jackson's scarier characters, and this brilliant actor inhabits all four corners of his jittery, avaricious personality. When he and Sydney finally clash, the movie makes its darkest, cleverest turn into film-noir nightmare.

    Stephen Holden - The New York Times

    19 January 2013

  • Paul Thomas Anderson shows off the same sort of quirky smarts that Joel and Ethan Coen did in "Blood Simple."

    - The Washington Post

    19 January 2013

  • Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson crafts a plot of manipulation and chance, in which some zigs and zags are more convincing than others. Still, his feel for scuzz, for people living at the raw extremes of appetite, is palpable.

    Owen Gleiberman - Entertainment Weekly

    19 January 2013


  • Best New Filmmaker

    Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (1997)

  • Paul Thomas Anderson

    Deauville Film Festival (1996)

  • Best Cinematography

    Independent Spirit Awards (1998)