A significant amount of time in my life has been spent devouring the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. Considering that the California born 42 year-old director has only made six feature films, his achievement in cinema can be attributed to a propensity for quality over quantity. Standing amongst a sea of American and international cinema giants P.T. Anderson has been a constant inclusion on variety of ‘best of’ lists that originate from the venerable American Film Institute to Entertainment Weekly. Each P.T. Anderson film sets the bar higher than the last in terms of execution and cinematic vision. Rumours over his latest film The Master which opens nationwide today, have been feeding the hype machine acclaim that it might be his finest work yet.
Too see how far Anderson has come look no further than his first feature film Hard Eight, starring Gwenth Platrow, John C. Riley and Philip Baker Hall (otherwise known as the library detective from Seinfeld).
One dreary Nevada morning, Sydney (P. B. Hall) meets a broke, down-and-out John (John C. Riley) who is desperate to win $6, 000 cash to pay for his mother’s funeral. The hard-nosed Sydney immediately has a soft spot for John. His effort to be kind begins with a cup of coffee and ends with a trip to Las Vegas, where Sydney is determined to show John how to sustain a living scamming casinos. Cut to two years later and under Sydney’s hand John has experienced the underbelly of casino life with success. When Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) enters John’s life, he becomes powerless over her seduction and vows to stand by her side regardless of circumstance.
The functioning mechanism of Hard Eight belongs to the airtight script, and the outstanding performances of the small cast. For a first feature, it is a solid film that exposes the film form that P.T. Anderon has become known for, and has strived to better ever since.
Whether placed under the category of Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Feature Film or Movie of the Year, in some facet this filmmaker has garnered over 80 nominations for his films. He is a director who sets himself apart by bringing us American rooted stories with characters that become defined in their darkest hours. Unraveling a depth that only a director with a taste for dysfunction told within epic parameters could accomplish.
Hard Eight is available on NetFlix and itunes. The Master opens today nationwide.