Blu-ray review: “Hard Eight” (1996)

“Hard Eight” (1996)


Running Time: 102 minutes

Written and directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson 

Featuring: Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson

Sydney: “Hey. Hey!”

John: [raises his head] “What?”

Sydney: “You want a cup of coffee? You want a cigarette?”

John: [groggily] “What?”

Sydney: “I’m a guy that’s offering to give you a cigarette… buy you a cup of coffee.”

Released in Australasia for the first time in any format but this time on blu-ray is the stunning debut from auteur Paul Thomas Anderson in the form of the low key drama “Hard Eight” (1996) which was a box office flop but a Festival hit especially at Sundance where it definitely made an impact and led to his first bonafide success in the now classic “Boogie Nights” (1997). Like many of Anderson’s films “Hard Eight” tells the story of flawed characters coming together by way of chance to try and find their way through not only their own lives but each others which the writer/director is able to pull dramatic tension out of making this a somewhat hidden gem from the 1990s.

As with many of Andersons film they almost all about narrative and character with very little in the way of plot, that is not a slight in any way at all, in fact what this means is that there is a very natural way any story will unfold. “Hard Eight” is a study in and of character, it has three main protagonists who are all lost in one way or another which again is a theme within the narrative of many of the directors films, they actually have much in common with one of Anderson’s main influences, Robert Altman. Both directors made films that almost always felt quite personal for one reason or another, mostly because they saw life from a particular point of view, they often involve class differences as well as featuring actors who would crop up time and again which helps to link works thereby creating a kind of shared Universe or linked character profiles.

“Hard Eight” is based around Sydney, a senior gambler, who finds a young man, John, forlornly sitting outside a diner in Nevada. He offers to give him a cigarette and buy a cup of coffee. Sydney learns that John needs $6,000 to pay for his mother’s funeral. He offers to drive John to Las Vegas and teach him how to gamble and survive. Although John is skeptical at first, he agrees to Sydney’s proposal. From here we follow each character as they attempt to make a differnce in each others lives to a greater or lessor extent within the narrative while following a plot that meanders at best.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson who was making his debut with “Hard Eight” you can see, looking back, how his career would unfold as he built a reputation as a maverick as well as an original voice, something that what truly rare in the 1990s, and even rarer now in our modern age. From this starting point over the years the budgets have increased, the people who want to work with Anderson has grown and audiences have embraced his unique style that could be off-putting but is embraced. There are three elements of Anderson’s films, present here, that are a kind of signature that would flow through to most of his oeuvre, they are the dialogue heavy nature of his scripts, the use of the camera as not only observer but also revealer of a kind ion truth and the use of silence, which again may seem illogical to say in a dialogue heavy movie but these are juxtaposed very well throughout.

“Hard Eight” has at its core three revealing and original performances by three very different actors who were all, at the time at very different stages of their own careers which is reflected seamlessly into the narrative of the film. The leads are very definitely Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly who are brilliant together and would appear together in the next two Anderson films, with their performances here it is easy to see why they have fantastic chemistry and are two sides of the same coin. With able support from both Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson who both play characters that they would become well known for, something Anderson does his best exploit to make “Hard Eight” a full rounded and original debut film from someone who would become a master of the medium.

“Hard Eight” has been a film that has been around on DVD in North America for some time, with its release on blu-ray in Australasia it is a must have for any film lover, in fact demand has been high so if you are able to purchase it you should, highly recommended.

Special Features and Technical Specs:

  • 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary by director Paul Thomas Anderson and actor Philip Baker Hall
  • Audio commentary by director Paul Thomas Anderson, actor Philip Baker Hall, Michelle Satter (Sundance Film) and various crew members
  • Deleted scene: “The Kiss”
  • Sundance Institute Filmmaker Lab scenes.
  • English HOH Subtitles
  • Theatrical Trailer

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