Friday, August 26, 2016

Directorial Debut: Paul Thomas Anderson's HARD EIGHT

Welcome to a new installment of DIRECTORIAL DEBUTS, where we look at some of the best, most interesting, and iconic directors and the films that started their careers. This week we take a look at Paul Thomas Anderson's indie thriller, HARD EIGHT.

John (John C. Reilly) has to get $6000 and he is embarrassed to say why: he went to Las Vegas and lost all of his money he was investing in order to bury his mother. Yet, when a stranger named Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) offers him a trip to Las Vegas and fifty dollars without any conditions, John takes the opportunity and learns the tricks of gambling from him, yet there is more than meets the eye in why this professional gambler decided to help him.

Paul Thomas Anderson's feature debut is indicative of his mastery as one of the great directors of our time, it bears all of his trademark points in their inception, and it is by all means a good movie even though it is also bears the heavy handed character development PTA sometimes puts the audience through other than having clearing left some big story elements on the cutting room floor.

All of the traits you expect from a PTA film are present: incredible performances from all of the actors, tight and riveting dialogue throughout the whole film, long tracking shots that serve story and impeccable staging and blocking. Hard Eight has it all and it is all done masterfully, from a technical point of view this is one of the best debut features I have ever seen, the mastery behind the camera that is expressed shows a maturity that goes well beyond what a first feature should achieve and that is all merit that goes to Anderson for his brilliant vision and his confidence in bringing it to life.

When you think that he made this being barely twenty six years old there is lots to brood about. I mean, he is directing Philip Baker Hall, one of the most respected and glorious character actors ever to appear on the silver screen and the performance he manages to take out of him is overwhelming. The actor himself deserves so much praise in the way he manages to establish a beat and a presence for himself. You fully believe this mysterious figure and in lesser hands I really don't think an audience could have kept the suspension of disbelief for how long the film asks for, but thanks to Baker Hall it works and it works brilliantly. From the most minute details to the way he speaks, the fluency he establishes, this is really good character work that teaches a lot on how to direct an actor, but even more so on how to use an actor's strong points in your film and how to edit correctly a performance.

John C. Reilly is pretty good in his role, but he gets over shadowed both by the lead performance both by his fellow cast mates, Samuel Jackson and Gwenyth Paltrow. They both bring to life characters that have the usual complexity you would have come to expect in a PTA film, yet they manage to be understated and don't overplay their dynamic which is what some actors have unfortunately done in their roles with this incredible director. Then, Phip Seymour Hoffman comes in and just reminds you what a force of nature he was. He has just one scene, but what he achieves in his short screen time is as good and as memorable of a performance as any of the other actors.

Finally with all this talent in front of the camera, you have a style and a pace that don't step in front of them and instead support them in every possible way. The visual storytelling in this film is breathtaking, the smart and delicate edits peppered through it were a pleasure to experience, the way Andersone quietly switches shots in the same conversation to explain how status is changing in them is inspiring filmmaking. Moreover, the blocking of the actors is once again an element in which PTA just schools everyone and shows his unbelievable talent.

Where the film really tripped for me was in resolution. Now it has to be noted that the film underwent severe cutting by the studio and intense creative differences. And honestly, looking back, it feels like that. There is something that is missing here. the incredible character work, the surreal set-up, the subtle mystery, the resolution, it all feels cut short. There is an element of disappointment when you understand the whole character dynamic and it doesn't feel as three dimensional as it should be, it lacked in grit and emotional impact.

Still, Hard Eight, whilst lacking a substantial amount of pay off, has so many filmmaking gems and qualities to it, it will be hard to resist its subtle and clever charm.

James's Score: 7/10

Make sure to check us out and like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram for all of our reviews, news, trailers, and much, much more!!!

No comments:

Post a Comment