Hard Eight
1996
World-weary card shark Sydney takes reckless John under his wing after showing him how to exploit casino perks. The surrogate father and son are successful gamblers until John falls for a cocktail waitress and gets mixed up with a shady stranger.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

In the ongoing process of renting debut films by contemporary directors whose later work I admire (Wide Awake and Following are coming up next), I have found nothing but gems so far, including Welcome to the Dollhouse and Bound. Here's another homerun, hit by Paul Thomas Anderson in 1996. It has the focus on character and dialogue of his later work, but doesn't push the stylistic envelope, keeping things as cool and collected as the protagonist. It's a thriller for people who don't like thrillers but do like a solid character study. And it even includes forward-references to PTA's later films, such as the names of Sydney's old friends from Atlantic City. Fans will find more to love than the average viewer, but it's still an enjoyable flick for anyone who thinks Vegas and noir work well together. If the pattern keeps going this well, I might even rent AlienĀ³.

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