Sunday, March 31, 2013

Hard Eight

Sydney / Kivikova kahdeksikko. US © 1996 Rysher Entertainment / Green Parrot. P: Robert Jones, John Lyons. D+SC: Paul Thomas Anderson. DP: Robert Elswit - Super 35. M: Jon Brion, Michael Penn. Song: "Christmastime". AD: Michael Krantz. ED: Barbara Tulliver - cut on film [statement in the end credits]. C: Philip Baker Hall (Sydney Brown), John C. Reilly (John Finnegan), Gwyneth Paltrow (Clementine), Samuel L. Jackson (Jimmy), F. William Parker (hostage), Philip Seymour Hoffman (craps player), Robert Ridgely (Keno manager), Melora Walters (Jimmy's girl). Loc: Reno. Not theatrically released in Finland - VHS: 1997 Egmont Entertainment - telecast: 2.4.2001 MTV3, 15.7.2006 MTV3, 21.5.2011 Nelonen - VET V-3395 – K16 – 102 min. A Filmoteca Española print with Spanish subtitles by Juan Manuel Ibeas viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Paul Thomas Anderson), 31 March 2013

Sydney was the title given by the director for his long-term project. Hard Eight is the on-screen title.

'Hard eight describes a dice roll in the game of craps wherein each of two dice land on "four."' (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia synopsis: "Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), a gambler in his 60s, finds a young man, John (John C. Reilly), sitting forlornly outside a diner and offers to give him a cigarette and buy him a cup of coffee. Sydney learns that John is trying to raise enough money for his mother's burial. He offers to drive him to Las Vegas and teach him how to make some money and survive. Skeptical at first, John agrees."

"Two years later, John, having gotten the money for the funeral, has stayed in Reno and become Sydney's protégé. John has a new friend named Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) who does security work, and is attracted to Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a cocktail waitress dating John. John and Clementine get married, but later Sydney gets a frantic late-night phone call. He arrives at a motel to find the newlyweds holding hostage a customer refusing to pay Clementine, who moonlights as a prostitute."

"Sydney manages to smooth the situation over. He then advises John and Clementine to leave town and head to faraway Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. After the two leave, Sydney is confronted by Jimmy, who demands a large amount of money. He knows something about Sydney and threatens to tell John if necessary - that Sydney is the one who killed John's father."

"Sydney acquiesces and pays the money, but later sneaks into Jimmy's house and shoots him. He then returns to the same diner where he met John. The film ends with Sydney covering up blood on his shirt cuff."

An impressive debut feature from Paul Thomas Anderson. These were the first cinema screenings in Finland of Hard Eight, which has been previously been seen here only on video and tv. 35 mm prints are rare.

Certain structures typical for the director appear already here: like The Master, Hard Eight is based on the relationship between a father figure and a vagabond.

The authority figure is dubious, however. Sydney is a gambler with a shady past, perhaps in gangland.

John, the rootless desperado with violent impulses, has lost his father, and Sydney becomes his father figure. In the conclusion it turns out that it was Sydney who killed John's father.

Fatherhood, biological or otherwise, is the deep theme here. Sydney has failed as the father of the children of his own, and he sincerely wants to help John and Clementine to succeed in a better life. Jimmy's most fatal mistake may be his proclamation to Sydney that "no matter how hard you try you're not his father".

Hard Eight belongs to the great gambling films like California Split. Gambling is not the theme; it is the environment of illusions, violence, and instant gratification.

The most impressive feature of the movie is the excellent casting. Paul Thomas Anderson has discovered many members of his actors' ensemble already here. The performances are moving and deeply felt, including that of Gwyneth Paltrow, who has not appeared in other films of the director.

Hard Eight is based on a relaxed and spontaneous approach. Sometimes it feels even lax and prolonged.

It seems like it has been shot in available light, at times perhaps too puristically.

The print is ok, and that certain darkness seems intentional.

No comments: