Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hard Eight

John (John C. Reilly) sits against the wall, outside the entrance of Jack's Coffee Shop. We approach him as a man, Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) walks up to him. Sydney offers to give John a cigarette and a cup of coffee. John seems suspicious of the stranger. Sydney asks John, "Come from Vegas? Reno?" and John says he was in Vegas. Sydney then asks if he lost money, but John says he broke even. Sydney asks if he knows how to count cards, and John says no. Sydney then volunteers some advice:
Sydney: In my experience, if you don't know how to count cards, you oughtta stay away from Blackjack.
John: Well, thanks for the tip, Mr. Helpful.
Sydney: Hey John...
John: What?
Sydney: John, we're sitting here. I bought you a cup of coffee. I've given you a cigarette. Hey John, look at me. [John looks] You want to be a wise ass, go outside and take a seat. If you want to talk to me. If you want to talk to me, well then...Never ignore a man's courtesy. Let's talk about Vegas. Let's talk about what happened to you. If something did happen, maybe I can help.
John: You want to help me?
Sydney: You look like a man who could use a friend.
John: You want to be my friend? Then give me $6,000.00. Do you have that? Can you give a total stranger $6,000.00, because that's my trouble. OK?
Sydney: What do you need $6,000.00 for?
John: I need it.
Sydney: For what?
John: TO bury my mother.
Sydney: You went to Vegas to win some money...
John: No, I went to lose some money...
Sydney: You went to Vegas to win some money to bury your mother? To pay for her funeral? That is very admirable. I admire the intention. I can't say it's wise, though.
John: Do you have $6,000.00 to give me?
Sydney: No, I can't.
John: I didn't think so.
Sydney asks if he has any family or anyone else to turn to, and John says he's alone. He offers to loan John $50.00 if he'll go back to Vegas with him, and to show him what he did wrong. John asks him "What are you St. Francis or something?" When he says no, John says "He then asks "Are you looking for a fag? Because I'm not some boy hooker, if that's what you're after." Sydney says "I'm not looking for a hooker, John. I'm offering you a ride. I'm offering to teach you something." John replies "Well, I'm telling you something right now. I don't suck dick, Ok?"
Sydney: I understand that. And, this is the last time I'll ask. You want my help?
John: I'll fuck you up if you fuck with me. I know three types of Karate; jiu jitsu, aikido, and regular karate.
Sydney: Ok.
John: Alright. A:  give me a ride. 2. You give me $50.00 and C., I sit in the back. And, believe me, if you pull anything, I will fuck you up.
Sydney: I believe you.

John gets in the car, sitting in back like he asked. Before long he asks Sydney to pull over, so he can sit in the front. He bums a cigarette from Sydney, but turns down the matches Sydney offers, claiming that he has a rule never to use matches due to a bad experience he had with a book of matches going off in his pocket once. Sydney asks him what he'll do with his $50.00. and tells him that if he plays it a certain way, hard enough and long enough, he can get himself a room and a meal, but he adds, you won't win your $6,000.00. John agrees to play for a room and a meal. They get to the casino and Sydney tells him to shave and clean up and then to come meet him. When he's cleaned up, Sydney tells him he'll actually need $150.00, not $50.00 and then tells him to ask for the floor man, and tells him what to say to him, and to ask for a rate card. Once he gets the card, Sydney gives him $150.00 and tells him to cash it in for dollar tokens, making a note of the amount cashed and the time on the rate card.

Next, Sydney tells him to play twenty dollars on the slot machines, playing slowly, a dollar at a time, making sure the floor man notices him. Sydney notices John ordering a drink and approaches him, telling him "it'll turn out to be a hundred and fifty dollar cocktail. Don't drink." He tells John to leave the slot machines and to cash in a hundred dollars in tokens for cash, and to get a bill.   He's then to give his original cashier his hundred dollar bill along with his rate card for more tokens. After he does this, Sydney points out that he now has $250.00 on his rate card and he's only spent twenty bucks. Sydney tells him to keep cycling the bill, slowly, making sure the floor man sees him and says he'll come find him later. John takes the advice and gets into the pattern. The floor man starts noticing him approvingly. He ends up winning some money along the way, and later we find him in a room. Sydney knocks at his door, and John tells him he got $2,000.00 on the rate card, and the floor man offered him a room and tickets to a show. He tells Sydney "it works!" and asks if that's what he does. Sydney tells him "Not anymore."  John thanks him profusely. Sydney then asks "What are you gonna do?" explaining that he can't do this all week. Sydney tells him that he can't win $6,000.00 but he has a friend he can call to help with the funeral arrangements. He tells John ." John says "I would. Thank you." Sydney tells him he's going to gamble and John asks if he can go along and watch.
We then pick up two years later, in Reno, NV. Sydney is at a table in a casino bar. A waitress approaches and says "Hello, Captain." and asks if he remembers her name, before hiding her name tag under her hand. Sydney recalls "Clementine, just like the movie." Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) smiles and says he's right. He asks if she remembers his name, and she tells him she does, saying "Sydney." He asks her why she calls him Captain, then. And she tells him that he seems like the captain of a ship to her, adding "I see the way John follows you, and worships you, like you're the captain." Sydney tells her "John is a very old friend." Sydney asks her if she's required to flirt, pointing out a table of men. She tells him she's not "required" to do it, but if she doesn't she gets questioned about being rude. She says "I can't tell them to fuck off." He tells her "You don't have to do that with me. She nods and he offers to settle the bill for his drink, but she says "Jimmy paid for your drink." We look over and see Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) at the bar with John. Sydney gives her a twenty anyway. John and Jimmy approach Sydney's table. Jimmy tells Sydney he's working as  a security consultant at the Sand Dunes Casino. John says that Jimmy say Sydney play in Vegas once, a few years ago. Jimmy recalls "I used to live there. I saw you playing craps at the original Dunes. You bet the hard eight for a thousand and pressed it for two."
Sydney: Did I hit it?
Jimmy: No, you didn't hit it. But, it was a big balls bet and I remembered your face.
Sydney: Stupid bet.
Jimmy: You were with that old dude with the voice thing. What was his name?
Sydney says "Excuse me." and looks at his Keno card. Jimmy comments that he gave up "big balls bets." to play Keno. Sydney answers "It passes the time." John mentions seeing a guy win $38,000.00 playing Keno, and Jimmy tells them about seeing a guy have a heart attack and die at the craps table, which didn't stop the game. Jimmy then remarks "We are surrounded by pussy here."
Sydney: Hey. Hey. Jimmy.
Jimmy: What?
Sydney: It's not for my ears, but hers. She can hear that sort of thing across the lounge. It puts her in a very uncomfortable position.
Jimmy: I doubt if hearing she's got a great pussy puts her in an uncomfortable position.
Sydney: I just don't want it coming from my table.
Jimmy: I don't know if you knew this, but half the women who work here are take home whores anyway. They get off on that shit. I got a friend, works over at the Sand Dunes, where I work. This man's in charge of corralling the waitresses for that sort of thing. He's in charge. He is the pussy patrol.
John: [fidgeting] Jimmy...
Jimmy: What? I live up here. I know what flies and what don't. To tell a babe she's got a nice ass is no crime, believe me.
Sydney: You said it as she walked away.
John persuades Jimmy to go back to the tables to gamble. Jimmy tells Sydney to call him if he needs anything in town.
Sydney watches Clementine dealing with a table of men, before heading into the casino to gamble. He heads outside after awhile and sees Clementine leaving one of the guest rooms. She tells him she was visiting her friend, but she could lose her job if they find out she was in one of the rooms. Sydney remarks "But, you'll be fired if you tell them to leave you alone?" She's distraught at the though of the hotel finding out. Sydney takes her out for coffee and asks her about her plans. She tells him she's not into school and is just working to pay her bills. She remarks "You look at me as a piece of shit now, because you saw me coming out of that room." He tells her that he doesn't. She asks him if he's going to tell John about it, but he assures her he won't. She asks him how he knows John and he gives her the story. She remarks "I think he's adorable, the way he follows you around and looks up to you. He orders the same drinks as you. He dresses the same." Sydney says "We share the same tastes, I guess." She asks Sydney if he has kids. He tells her he has a boy and a girl, and says he's divorced. He tells her he doesn't know where they live as they haven't spoken in a while. She remarks "That's too bad." Sydney brings Clementine back to his room and gets her a robe. She asks "Captain, do you want to fuck me?" He asks "Do you think that?"
Clementine: Well, you brought me here.
Sydney: Do you think that?
Clementine: I don't know.
Sydney: Well, you should know before you ask a question like that.
Clementine: Well, it seems like you're being nice to me...
Sydney: So, you think I'd want that?
Clementine: If you wanted to fuck me
Sydney: Stop saying that.
Clementine: Well, it just seemed like
Sydney: Well, don't let it seem that way. This is a comfortable bed for you. I want you to sleep on it, to give you something to...a place to have a nice shower, and a bed.
Clementine: Don't get angry.
Sydney: No, I'm not. Because, I understand how you could ask a question like that.
He assures her that he doesn't' see her as a "piece of shit." and tells her John won't be back until late and won't disturb her.
The next morning Sydney wakes to find Clementine and John talking in the bedroom. He greets them and tells Clementine that John will take her out if she needs to go shopping or anything, offering money and suggesting they go to the mall. They agree but John turns down the money as he has his own. Sydney says "Well, that's that." and leaves them alone. John excuses himself to talk to Sydney before they leave. They compare yesterday's gambling and Sydney mentions that John didn't show up at the bar last night. John apologizes and says he was with Jimmy and mentions that Jimmy thinks Sydney doesn't like him. Sydney says that he doesn't like Jimmy, but tells him not to worry about it, and to show Clementine a good time. Jimmy asks if Sydney had sex with her, but Sydney says no, which John's relieved to hear.

Sydney keeps himself occupied, ending up at the craps table. An obnoxious younger player (Philip Seymour Hoffman) taunts him, calling him old timer. Sydney bets $2,000.00 on hard eight while the other player runs his mouth. The other player starts calling him "big time" after that. The hard eight doesn't come up, however and Sydney leaves the table.

Later he gets a distressed call from John, to meet him at a hotel. He agrees to come down. When he gets there, John is reluctant to open the door, asking "Is everything cool?" ove rand over, annoying Sydney. John tells him he has to promise to help. He doesn't promise just say "open the door." John insists that they keep the lights off, but Sydney refuses, turning them on to see a guy on the bed with his head bloody. Clementine is sitting in the corner of the room. John and Clementine explain that the man was a client of Clementine's but refused to pay her and hit her. She called John for help and they hit him and decided to hold him hostage, calling his wife to give them the $300.00 he owed her. Sydney gets all the detail of the situation, asking how long they've been there and who knows about it. More details keep coming out as he questions them. John reveals he threatened to kill the man if the wife doesn't pay. He gets angry when he realizes John has a gun, which he says he got from Jimmy. John takes it away and asks if Jimmy knows about the situation. John says he doesn't but Clementine tells him not to say that. Sydney starts questioning Clementine, telling her not to look at John. He has her tell him about the whole day. She tells him to just ask her what happened and he asks "Where did this thing go wrong?" She tells Sydney "He thought he was smart and I was stupid, but I'm not stupid." Agitated, Sydney remarks "Well, this is a pretty stupid situation, isn't it?" Clementine says "We'll see how fucking stupid I am when we get my money, won't we?" Sydney tells her "You know the first thing they should have taught you at hooker school?  You get the money up front."

John tells him not to talk to her like that, but Sidney tells John "Shut the fuck up." John won't calm down and says "I'm warning you Syd. Don't fucking talk to her like that. She's my wife. We got married this afternoon."  John kicks the man on the bed a few times. Sydney says "I am glad to see you are having a wonderful honeymoon." and then walks out the door, prompting John to beg him not to leave. Sydney tells John he can't be involved in this, reminding him how serious the situation is. He advises John to get in his car and leave and he'll help him get far away. John says he can't and Sydney asks, how he let her do this. John says "I was at the bar. I just turned around, and she's gone. I didn't know." He tells Sydney he knows he fucked up but he really loves her. They go back in the room and John tells Clementine they have to leave. She insists that he has to pay her, but John can leave if he wants. John gets angry and calls Clementine a "stupid fucking whore" when she says she doesn't care if she's separated from their marriage. She says "Fuck you, John." and he slaps her across the face and then starts apologizing. Sydney calms John down and tries to reason with Clementine, getting her to admit that she loves John, and doesn't want to spoil that with the kidnapping.

Sydney uncuffs the man who's still unconscious and they start to leave when the phone rings. Sydney asks John who it is, but John says he doesn't know. He starts stumbling over his words, saying maybe it's the guy's wife or the front desk. Sydney says "Don't fuck with me, John." Clementine speaks up and says "Jimmy knows we're here." John insists that it doesn't matter, they should just go. Sydney agrees hitting the man on the bed when he starts coming to, and then leaving. Sydney tells John he'll drive Clementine, and he is to follow them. Clementine gives Sydney the keys to her place and he agrees to feed her cats while they're gone. John catches up to them and Sydney tells them that they can call him and he'll get them as much money as he has when they need it. He suggests they go to Niagara Falls, and tells John he's not going to let anything happen to him.
Sydney throws the handcuffs and gun from the kidnapping down a drain in the street. On the road, Clementine promises she won't fuck up again. Back in Reno, Sydney watches video of John and Clementine's marriage ceremony in his room. He then heads to the Sand Dunes and Jimmy sees him from his car, flashing his lights to call him over. Sydney gets in the car, and Jimmy tells him to put out his cigarette as it ruins the resale value. Sydney refuses, so Jimmy asks if he can give him a cigarette then. Jimmy remarks that Sydney must have gotten his note. Jimmy informs Sydney that he saw the hostage in the casino that morning and that he hadn't called the cops.Sydney asks what Jimmy wants. Jimmy says, "SO, John and Clementine are on their way to safety in...Niagara Falls. So everything's alright then?" Sydney asks when he talked to them, and he says it was last night. Jimmy tells Sydney, that he knows some things about Atlantic City. Sydney laughs and gets out of the car. Jimmy is upset that he's walking away and tells him "I haven't told John, but I know about Atlantic City. You shot his father in the face." Sydney keeps walking and gets into his own car. Before he can leave Jimmy breaks his window and points a gun at him.
Jimmy: John doesn't know you killed his father but I will tell him. I;m threatening you with the words, you understand?
Sydney: Yes.
Jimmy: You want me to do it?
Sydney: No.
Jimmy: Then I want $10,000.00 to keep quiet.
Sydney: I don't have it.
Jimmy: Bullshit. Yes you do.
Sydney: No. I don't have it.
Jimmy: I will go to Niagara Falls and tell him.
Sydney: Please don't.
Jimmy: Ten thousand dollars, Sydney.
Sydney: Alright, I'll get it.
Jimmy: Yes, you will.
Jimmy insists he wants the money now, but Sydney says he has to get it from the bank.

Jimmy walks Sydney to a hotel room and tells him to sit on the sofa. He informs him that they're going to sit together until John calls or the bank opens. He tells Sydney "In the stories I've heard, you used to be a hard ass. You were a hard ass and you took his Dad out, Sydney. SO you think, what? That you can just walk through this life without being punished for it? Shit, man. I know all those guys you know; Floyd Gondoli, Jimmy Gator, Mumbles O'Malley. They like to sit around in Clifton's and talk, talk, talk. They love to tell stories. You can sit there and look at me sideways all you want. You probably think I'm some kind of asshole or something, but, I'm not a killer, like you. You walk around like you're Mr. Cool, Mr. Wisdom, but you're not. You're just some old hood.The other night, in the bar, you asking me a question, like, do I do parking lot security? Well, the answer is no! I'm trusted security, inside the casino, and I don't fuck it up."
Sydney: Good that you have such a sturdy sense of responsibility.
Jimmy: Don't fucking do that! You understand? I can see right through that shit. You look at me as some idiot, huh? I know you do. I know you. You old guys, you old hoods, you think you're so fucking above it, so high and mighty. What am I to you? Some Loser? No. Not with a gun in my hand, not with the facts I know. Bottom line Sydney, no matter how hard you try, you're not his father.
Sydney: I have the money here. I have the $6,000.00 here. Not in the bank. I have it here.
Jimmy: I knew that. I knew you did.
Sydney: I have the money to give you, right now. In this moment. I will give you all that I have. Maybe, before, you were gonna kill me. I don't know. I know John, and I love him like he was my own child. But, I can tell you this, I don't want to die. I killed his father. I can tell you what it was. This is not an excuse. I'm not begging for clemency. All that matters. I do not wish to sacrifice my life for John's well being. But I will sacrifice this money for mine. Because you have asked me. Because, after this, I will have done all I can for John and for myself. I'm gonna ask you with all the heart and sincerity that I have, please do not put a bullet in me, and please do not tell John what I've done. I trust that once I give you this money, you and I will take separate paths and that this negotiation will settle everything. That is my hope. I don't want to die.

Sydney goes to see a cashier at the casino and gets some money, handing it to Jimmy. Jimmy whispers to Jimmy and laughs, leaving him. Back at his room, Sydney gets a call from John who's heading back.. He tells John everything is fine. John tells Sydney how much he loves Clementine. He tells John he has to tell him something important, and then says he loves him like he was his own son. John says he loves him too. We see that Sydney is packing a suitcase. He parks across from Jimmy's house and watches Jimmy leave. He then breaks into the house and finds Jimmy's guns and takes one, before sitting in a chair facing the front door.

Jimmy goes to the casino and gambles, betting two thousand on the hard eight and winning. We see John and Clementine on their way back. Jimmy picks up a girl leaving the casino. We see Sydney look at the door as Jimmy opens it, walking in along with the girl. They're about to have sex on the couch, not noticing Sydney until he points the gun and shoots Jimmy several times, killing him. He tells the girl to get out and checks Jimmy's body, finding a wad of money in his pocket. He takes it and drives off. John is still driving as well. Sydney goes to a restaurant and has coffee. He notices blood on the cuff of his sleeve while putting a cigarette in the ashtray, and pulls his coat sleeve down over it.

What About It?

Hard Eight is essentially Sydney's story. In fact, "Sydney" was the original title. We're given a glimpse into the character of a man who has been around a long time, has a very good understanding of how his world works, and a firm set of beliefs to follow. Philip Baker Hall plays this character perfectly, as a man who says what he thinks as exactly as possible, with no need for hyperbole. His defining characteristic is his courtesy, which he never abandons. In the beginning of the film, he tells John, "Never ignore a man's courtesy." and it becomes clear that this is a larger statement than we imagine at first. Seeing Sydney react to certain situations, particularly crude statements and language, reveal much about him. Although on the surface you might take him for "proper" and easily offended, that's really not the case. At their first meeting John tells him "I don't suck dick." and Sydney doesn't blink. That has nothing to do with his intentions, and a less secure man might find the statement insulting. Sydney does not, because he understands where the statement comes from and realizes it's not an unreasonable statement to make. While not offended, he does begin to lose patience, as to him the exchange is simply a waste of time. He's a man who strives for the utmost clarity, so time and economy of words is more important to him than most.

Sydney has similar exchanges with others, when Clementine asks "Do you want to fuck me?" He doesn't simply end the exchange with"No." He tries to teach her something, asking "Do you think that?" until she finally answers "I don't know." and he is able to tell her the lesson "Well, you should know before you ask a question like that." As with John, he doesn't take offense at this. And he tells her why "Because, I understand how you could ask a question like that." He is well aware that kindness is often perceived as a trap, and used to set up conditions which can be called on later. Again striving to keep things clear, he informs John "I want you to see that my reasons for doing this are not selfish. I'd hope that you will do the same for me." Such a statement is unusual enough that most would dismiss it, but Sydney is quite serious. At the same time, however, he rejects John's comparison to St. Francis. While he is making great efforts to dispense kindness, he is not at all a holy man. His willingness to help, share, and teach simply fit into his own idea of what he should be doing. He has accumulated much knowledge in his years, and he chooses John to pass it on to, and he is chosen for good reason. We learn from Jimmy late in the movie that Sydney killed John's father years ago. We can guess that Sydney feels some guilt over this, but his characterization doesn't quite support that. When he requests that Jimmy not tell John, it seems to me, he is more concerned about what it will do to John's life, than any personal consequence. "You were a hard ass." Jimmy tells him, and he's right. This revelation however, doesn't cause any change in Sydney's demeanor, it's simply a fact as much as what he had for breakfast. He was a hard ass, and what he's learned over the years has taught him that there is a better way to conduct yourself when possible.

He chooses kindness over violence when given the choice, although as Jimmy learns he has no compunctions about being a "hard ass" again, if his hand is forced. The choice he has made is evident however, in his choosing to let the girl who came in with Jimmy, run away. Jimmy however, made his choice, simply by being who he is. The sting he felt over Sydney's insult, asking if he worked "parking lot security" is all that Sydney needs to know that the matter will never be settled with Jimmy.  When confronted with John and Clementine's mess in the hotel room, he advises the simplest solution. This is the only occasion where we see his patience tested. He can't come to grips with the lack of logic in holding a man hostage and risking long imprisonment, for the sake of $300.00. Beyond that, his common sense is useless as John and Clementine are both acting out of intense emotion. The two of them are essentially "ignoring his courtesy" by asking for help and then not listening to him, and by not giving him all of the information. John even lies to him about Jimmy's participation. (foreseeing his disapproval) Due to John's desperation, he rethinks his decision to leave them there, perhaps realizing that they have no idea what they're doing. Learning that they got married, he again comes to a place where he understands how this has happened. The other thing about Sydney is, he commits to his decision, and is never forced into anything. Thus, when he does convince them to leave town, he helps them. not begrudgingly, but 100%, offering to send them "as much money as he has, whenever they need it." To him, John and Clementine are simply children, who made a mistake and this doesn't warrant any ill will.

Sydney's reaction to the hotel room scene is also very revealing about his character. He treats it in the same way, as he deals with vulgarity. He's seen it all before, but he strives for clarity, asking for all the facts of the situation until he understands. He remains calm in the face of it, until John and Clementine, prove unhelpful. Even then, once he takes into account their positions, he factors them in and proceeds accordingly. He's a guy who has nearly everything figured out, but still recognizes that he doesn't control everything. He has gambling down to a science, so much so that it may as well be steady employment. There is still a part of him however, that remains a gambler, as we see with his habit of betting $2,000.00 on the hard eight, and often losing, of course. But losing, is also not a surprise, just another factor to be considered. Even in the losing he gains something, as we see in Jimmy remembering him doing the same thing years ago as "a big balls bet."

In a sense, the action is a personal statement, that win or lose. it's all the same to him. This causes resentment in someone like Jimmy. We see that once he's given the blackmail money, betting $2,000.00 on the hard eight is one of the first things he does. Jimmy wins the bet, but he doesn't really win, ending up dead a little later.  He doesn't understand what Sydney is at all, justifying his own inferiority, by imagining that Sydney is simply an act, when in fact Sydney's knowledge has come directly from the life he's lived. To Jimmy however, even Sydney's courtesy is an insult, because he wants to believe they are equals, although they're not. Jimmy argues the point, defending his language as acceptable. Again striving for clarity Sydney asserts that he simply doesn't want Jimmy's language coming from his table. This is another example of his effort at courtesy. We see where he's coming from in the previous scene, when he tells Clementine she doesn't have to flirt with him.

Compared to Sydney, John is a blank slate. He starts out perplexed and somewhat hostile, but once he realizes that Sydney is what he says he is, he learns from him eagerly, clearly moved that Sydney would expend his effort to teach him something. He regards Sydney as a father figure and reveres and imitates him. On some level though, he has a need to assert his own person and thus he ends up befriending Jimmy, another person who gives off the appearance of knowing more than he does and treats him kindly. John C. Reilly portrays John as extremely simple. He is able to follow a system if it's given to him, but coming up with a system of his own is well beyond him. This is also seen in his relationship with Clementine. He suggests they get married, the first day they spend any real time together because dating is just another system in which he doesn't understand the rules. John is impulsive and greatly impressionable, but very good hearted for the most part. We see how easily influenced he is though, by his attempt to keep both Jimmy and Sydney as mentor figures. Without question he accepts a gun from Jimmy. He clearly has some anger in him as we see when he slaps Clementine, but it was certainly a heightened situation, almost designed to bring out the worst in him. Once they leave, he quickly forgives the fact that she spent their wedding day having sex with a customer, seemingly content in the fact that she's with him.

Clementine is the most driftless of them She seems to have very little in the way of personal convictions and tries very hard just to give everyone what they want from her. She feels little obligation to anyone, and has no clear goals. She tells Sydney, that she's making money, mainly to keep her credit rating from getting bad. She has no problem with having sex for money, but is determined that she will be paid what she's owed, so much so that she would risk her freedom for it. Clearly, she's emotionally unstable and acting out of anger, against her own powerlessness. She is not typically aware of her own motivations, and her mind is easily changed with the right approach. Gwyneth Paltrow is very convincing in giving us a believable character, necessary for the turning point in the hotel room. Of all the characters, Clementine is the gamble for Sydney, the reminder that he can't anticipate everything. He certainly knows this when he brings her into the equation, but perhaps reasons that John is at a place where Clementine is the next logical step in what John needs.
In a sense, he's again putting $2,000.00 on the hard eight by bringing her in. For the length of the movie at least, it seems his gamble pays off, he is able to move on and John has a companion now that he knows enough to get by on his own.

The world that Paul Thomas Anderson creates is an interesting one, with Sydney at the center of it, a man with many sins practicing kindness in an environment where kindness is always a con. Gambling is the background of the film, and at the forefront is Sydney's unflappable courtesy. We end up with the contrast of chance vs. conscious effort. This is a struggle which has clearly taken it's toll on Sydney, but he appears aged and perhaps resigned, rather than beaten. Sydney like to play the hard eight, but how he plays it is the one thing in his control. His kindness and generosity are not altruistic, and likely not his nature, but that again, is him establishing what control he can over the unpredictable. He's capable of shooting people dead without flinching, yet he can also choose to help the son of one of his victims. This gives him a legacy in a way, as all of his knowledge isn't wasted when he's gone. He seems to care for John, but when his own children are mentioned he doesn't show any emotion, but agrees that it's "too bad" that he hasn't seen them in a very long time and doesn't know where they live.  The characters in the film are well rounded and fascinating. The dialogue is sharp, unique and riveting. We enjoy getting to know these character as much as thy enjoy getting to know each other. These are exchanges we don't often see. These are not good guys and bad guys, but particular people living with the messes they've made for themselves, Sydney included. In a sense, Sydney's code of conduct, kindness and courtesy, is the ultimate bet on the hard eight, a reward isn't likely, but then Sydney can only control how he plays. To the very end we see Sydney's determination to live with dignity. He's not shocked by the blood on his cuff, but he is able to cover it up as best he can, out of courtesy, perhaps because nobody in the restaurant asked to see it.


Unknown said...

Another nice, in-depth review. Definitely PTA's most underrated, under-appreciated film to date. It just doesn't seem to get the love that his other films do but I think there is a lot to like with it, namely the relationship between Philip Baker Hall and John C. Reilly's characters. Also, love Philip Seymour Hoffman's small bit as a blowhard gambler.

INDBrent said...

Thank J.D. I've seen it several times, and i actually think I like it more with every viewing. The match between Sydney and John is certainly a unique one, and they do a fine job making such unusual characters seem perfectly natural. I love Hoffman's but too. I really enjoy how PTA works with the same actors so often. You can see why as they're all top notch talent with a lot of range.

Anonymous said...

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INDBrent said...

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Russell_Oz said...

Great review, really enjoyed the analysis.

I first saw 'Hard Eight' years ago and have still only seen it the once but I can still remember it clearly.

It was such a small, unique, and restrained film which I really enjoyed. I personally think that this was a career best for Philip Baker Hall who brought such a quiet intensity to the character of Sydney.

You do make a really good point that Sydney chooses to perform acts of kindness because it's the only thing he can control. This is actually a really interesting point and I didn't pick this up the first time I watched it.

The fact that I can still remember the film and how I felt after watching it years ago just proves how great I thought it was.

Good review mate, I plan on watching it again soon!

INDBrent said...

@Russell_OZ, Thank you. It's one that stuck with me too. "Quiet intensity" is a perfect description for it and for Sydney. Definitely a different kind of gangster film. I like the focus on interesting and solid character work. I'd agree about Phillip Baker Hall too, it's a shame he doesn't get more notice for this role. John C. Reilly also, he does a great job treading the line between unbelievably comic and tragic in his haplessness.

Unknown said...

Great movie. Hall is superb. The gambler in me wishes he hit the hard eight!