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Hard Eight Reviews

A downbeat, gutter morality tale about an aging tough guy and the younger man he befriends, this morose slice-of-lowlife drama features fine performances by John C. Reilly, the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson and an almost unrecognizable Gwyneth Paltrow. Guileless, down-on-his-luck John (Reilly) is taken under the gruff wing of Sydney (Philip Baker Hall); a middle-aged professional gambler who's even tougher than he looks. Sydney takes John to Reno and shows him the ropes, but while John learns the tricks of gambling for a living, his ingenuousness and basic faith in human nature betray him: He befriends the flashy, conniving Jimmy (Jackson) and marries ambitious hooker Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), setting off a chain reaction of bloody violence that Sydney handles with tight-lipped efficiency. A fine sense of sleazy atmosphere distinguishes writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson's film from many others that tell similar stories about similar marginal types. Leathery, gravel-voiced Philip Baker Hall -- veteran of small parts in big movies -- proves that he can carry the weight of a film and, as Clementine, Paltrow sheds her Miss Goody Two-Shoes skin for cheap sequins and hot pants. But ultimately, the material is so familiar that it's hard to work up any enthusiasm for another trip though the seamy underside of glittering gaming life.