'Hard Eight' Review

Recently I've been watching/re-watching Paul Thomas Anderson films and it's mostly been an enjoyable experience (We made this pin based on the scene in Boogie Nights where the name Dirk Diggler came to life). Hard Eight was his first feature film and its based or maybe inspired by a short film he made two years earlier called Cigarettes and Coffee 

Cigarettes and Coffee

Can be seen for free, in sadly terrible quality, on various youtube accounts . Not sure how he managed to get Philip Baker Hall and Miguel Ferrer (Agent Rosenfield in Twin Peaks) to act in this very low budget short film. Was going to hope it was force of nature and a great script, however a quick investigation finds that he went to the same private school as the Kardashians and Olson Sisters. His dad was also a successful tv and radio personality so it is not hard to jump to the conclusion of coming from money and having a well connected father no doubt helped in giving Paul this step up. In Cigarettes and Coffee, we see the first glimpse of the most interesting character in Hard Eight, Sydney. 

Hard Eight 

Some very small spoilers here so only read on if you're okay with that. The film centers on the unlikely relationship between the purposeful Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) and the dim John (John C. Reilly).  The older Sydney seems, though it's not explicit, to be a reasonably successful professional gambler. Not living a life of riches but not struggling either. Having taken John under his wing and setting him up with a waitress, Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), things start to get messy. Philip Baker Hall has a great screen presence and John C Reilly's head alone is enough to carry most films. Gwyneth Paltrow is also good as Clementine, which was surprising, almost forgot about her first career before she became an odd shill for fad wellness. 

Not Quite Right

Despite good performances, and its unique feel (which is probably 50% Philip Baker Hall vibe) it feels like something is amiss. My sense is the writing of the more down and out characters is… bad. It feels like they’ve been written by someone who has never really had it difficult or spent time with someone who is genuinely struggling to get through life.

As mentioned earlier, Paul Thomas Anderson went to very expensive private schools, so it's perhaps no surprise that his writing of less privileged people would be bad. I don't think you can make characters who are struggling with life seem plain, simple and boring because they are very rarely those things. Despite the good performances by the two actors, the weak writing let them down and in turn the film suffers.

A bit of back story from Hard Eight ( Rysher Entertainment)

Reading up on the making of Cigarettes and coffee, there's a lot of, after the fact, myth building going on.  About how they financed the film with money “Anderson won gambling, his girlfriend's credit card, $10,000 his father, Ernie Anderson, had set aside for college and various other donations. “  Whilst I'm sure some of this may be true. The film was going to be made regardless. If your parents can pay for you to go to a private school they are going to be willing to put up $20,000 for your first short film that's somehow starring A list actors…

So why the romantic struggle nonsense? Guilt? Desire to seem like a normal guy and thus relatable? I’m not sure but theres a strange juxtaposition here between his apparent desire to seem like a struggling filmmaker, and his inability to write a character that's actually struggling. Unable to write a genuine person struggling with life, he's written what feels like characters cosplaying at struggling. Perhaps I’m being unfair and it's partly casting... But to me these two characters just seemed to be missing large parts of their personality.


400  Philip Baker Hall. Walking around doing things with a sense of purpose is just.. great. 

100  It being a reasonably interesting story with a unique pace.

100  John C Reilly's head.

75  Philip Seymour Hoffman's cameo is fun

75  The cut where John moves to the front seat

50  Having only 7 or so actors.

25  The bit where Clementines gives Sydney the tape.

25  Gwyneth Paltrow acting and acting well!

25 Having a 65 year old man in the main role.

25 no CGI

-200 John and Clementine being slightly 2D characters.

-25 Most films fail for going on too long. This film due to its pace could have gone on longer and been better for it. More Sydney walking about doing things please.

-25  Music not fitting a scene is a rare thing, as it's hard for music to take away from a scene. However the music towards the end of the opening cafe scene is wrong. The scene is tense and funny and the music is some somber, jazzy, yearning piece on wind and piano.  

650 out of 1000

Overall a solid film worth watching despite my reviews decent into class struggle.