Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut feature crapped out in theaters, but this story of two-bit losers fits perfectly on the small screen. An old-time scam artist (Secret Honor’s Hall) and his slow-witted protege (State of Grace‘s John C. Reilly) get tangled up with a cocktail waitress/hooker (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a blackmailing lounge lizard (Samuel L. Jackson, at his sleaziest). Anderson coaxes a quartet of indelible performances from his stars and masterfully evokes Reno’s seedy atmosphere; this bodes well for his soon-to-be-released ’70s-porn opus, Boogie Nights. With its studied pace and amoral characters, Hard Eight isn’t for all tastes, but for the price of a rental, it’s a gamble worth taking. A–
Get your EW TV news
Subscribe to EW TV for the latest TV news.