Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson – 1996) A-

In P. T. Anderson’s debut feature film we meet an older experienced Reno/Vegas gambler. He walks into a diner and seems to pick a young man in random who is down on his luck. He teaches him the ropes of slick gambling and how to game the casinos, legally. The film then moves forward some time and the two guys are mentor and student. The young man looks up and respects the older man. So, when he gets in some deep doodoo due to a cocktail waitress he calls the only man who might be willing to help. The whole time we are wondering why on earth that sharp old guy, played subtly and perfectly by Philip Baker Hall, is so patient with the bad stupid decisions that the younger man is making. We do get an answer that clears it up, but the strength of this film is in its assured direction and excellent performances form all involved.