There are a few films I can name to which I can compare Hard Eight to. They are as follows: Who's That Knocking At My Door, Breathless, Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows, Reservoir Dogs, and The Last Picture Show. Now, if you've seen all of those, including Hard Eight (or Sydney as Anderson prefers it), you'd notice that none of them are similar at all.
Indeed, that is true, but I wouldn't be making a pretentious, hyperbolic, comparison if I weren't gonna explain myself. Each of those films compare a common thread and that is that each of them are all excellent movies, perhaps among the greatest ever, and each of them were the first features directed by some of the greatest directors of all time. Knocking was directed by Martin Scorsese, Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard, Kane by Orson Welles, Blows by Francois Truffaut, Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino, Picture Show by Peter Bogdanovich, and Hard Eight by Paul Thomas Anderson. Each film gives us a glimpse of the revolutionary styles that became each director's trademark. Each film is a grand introduction, a sign to the world that there is a new kid on the block, and he or she is about to change the face of cinema as we know it.
Maybe it does seem a bit odd to refer to Paul Thomas Anderson as a game changer, but just think about it. Arguably no other filmmaker of the past twenty years has challenged critics and audiences alike like P.T. Anderson. From entertaining satire to an emotionally grandiose epic to a tender New- Wave Adam Sandler romp to a hypnotic tale of greed to a mind-boggling story of power and manipulation to a convoluted stoner-noir, this man has a worn a lot of hats as a filmmaker, and has made a name for himself that means quality. As you can see, I am a huge fan of all of his films and have thus decided to begin my time on this site with a look at each of his films, studying the evolution of one of the greatest directors of all time.
I'd hope that you would do the same for me
Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) is a gambler who's basically mastered the ability to score who takes John Finnegan (John C. Reilly) a loser with no money, on to be his son. Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a down on her luck waitress and hooker. They all end up together and things turn to shit.
In short, there's a hostage and a guy named Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) who knows some secrets about Sydney who then says some badass stuff and fires a gun. Good, clean, family fun.
In a nutshell, the story sounds simple, and that's because it is. But simplicity is sometimes the best thing, and for this particular story, it works.
I found the film to be pretty dull, the last half hour struggling to keep my attention. The film is obviously by a writer-director searching for his voice and just beginning to be able to reflect his thoughts onto the screen. The shortcomings of the film can be easily glossed over by perfect performances all-around, and beautiful cinematography by Robert Elswit.
The reason why I say in my most hyperbolic way possible that this film is a grand introduction to Anderson's films is because it deals with themes that have found their way into much of his work: the relationships between fathers and sons.
Anderson's own father was a voice-actor and radio personality named Ernie Anderson and shared a fairly rocky relationship with his nine children. This is where the poignancy of the father-son theme arises. Hard Eight is about a father figure and his "son." It is about loyalty and betrayal, and possibly even disappointment.
Hard Eight is not very bold or exciting, but it is an important first step in a perfect career. Anderson's talent caught the attention of multiple critics and festivals at the time, though it is unlikely that any of them could've predicted what was to come. Honestly I wouldn't have been able to predict anything related to an abnormally large schlong, nor just how awesome that could be.
Up Next: Marky Mark and Turd Ferguson appear in the greatest Goodfellas homage not directed by Scorsese.