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Filmstruck Queue: "Hard Eight" by Paul Thomas Anderson

Three thoughts about "Hard Eight" just as soon as I have a quickie wedding in Reno....

1. This is P.T. Anderson's first feature — he'd go on to really break through in the mainstream with his next, "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia" after that — and it's a little different from the sprawling ensemble-driven pieces that made his name. This movie focuses mostly on a single character, Philip Baker Hall's Sydney, and his relationship with a young, dumb ne'er do well played by John C. Reilly. It's a great role for Hall: Sydney is a cipher until the movie's final moments, when the reasons for his paternal care of Reilly become suddenly clear in a burst of violence. And the circles under Hall's eyes? Man, they deserved an Oscar acting nomination on their own.

2. There's a cameo here, all of two or three minutes, by Philip Seymour Hoffman before he was Philip Seymour Hoffman.  One hand, there's no reason to expect future stardom here: Hoffman's got long, stringy hair and a chubby body, and not all of that is character development. But the manic energy — tinged, ultimately with regret — that Hoffman brings to this part of a redneck hotshot at the craps table proves the old adage about there being no small parts.

3. I'm now convinced that every movie with John C. Reilly should feature a short monologue about his martial arts skills. Between his part in this movie and "Boogie Nights," it's kind of easy to see why Reilly — who once seemed to rival Hoffman as one of his generation's leading dramatic film character actors — took a left turn into comedy.

Bonus: Now we know why Samuel L. Jackson shaves his head these days. Oof, that hairline.


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