Hard Eight (1996)

Hard Eight (IMDb / Mubi) was a bit of a surprise. It shouldn’t have been – I came into it knowing I’ve enjoyed every Paul Thomas Anderson film I’ve seen.

It all started with the majestic There Will Be Blood – one of my favourites, and one which I’m so glad I saw on the big screen with its widescreen panoramas and all-encompassing sound production.

And then every year or so I’d happen to put another P.T. Anderson flick on – maybe it was a weird Netflix suggestion, or Matthew Culnane wouldn’t shut up about Boogie Nights, or I was mourning the death of the singular Philip Seymour Hoffman.

What I’m trying to say is that Hard Eight shouldn’t have been a surprise, but boy was it. I loved it.

I suppose knowing it was a wunderkind director’s début picture could have given me reason to doubt it would be any good, but it needn’t have. There are very few elements of this film that even suggest that this is an early production, let alone a début. There are just too many great locations, solid performances, and glorious tracking shots that Anderson has since become famous for. On top of that, the music choices feel vital, and considered – not thrown together at the last minute due to budget constraints.

There’s some uninspired dialogue here and there, but not enough to take away from the likes of Philip Baker Hall absolutely smashing it out of the park with his performance. On which note, John C. Reilly is perhaps the film’s biggest surprise – he’s brilliant. But then, that’s another thing P.T. Anderson has a weird knack for: extracting great performances from surprising casting choices.

My voyage into Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography continues, and the standard remains high.


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