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Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

United States 1996 102 mins.

Anderson’s first feature announced a powerful new voice in American cinema at a time when Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers were taking cinemas by storm with their film-history-inflected, sweeping creations. Anderson opts instead for a part-70s crime flick, part-chamber drama focused on a small group of wayward souls: Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), an aging gambler, John (John C. Reilly), a troubled young man whom Sydney takes under his wing, and Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a Reno cocktail waitress. Sydney, the poker-faced moral and philosophical center of the group, leads his younger companions out of the trouble they naturally stir up, but holds a huge secret of his own, one which threatens to shatter the delicate balance they’ve created. “Movies like Hard Eight remind me of what original, compelling characters the movies can sometimes give us.”—Roger Ebert.