Set in Las Vegas and Reno, the film takes place in a neon twilight zone where glitz and seediness meet. John C Reilly, a naive loser in desperate need of $6,000, gets a chance to change his luck when he meets Philip Baker Hall, a world-weary gambler who takes him under his wing and shows him how to turn meager earnings into thousands of dollars in freebies. After a few successful years, the mens' friendship changes when Reilly falls for Gwyneth Paltrow, a cocktail waitress who turns tricks on the side. Directed with icy precision by Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), "Hard Eight" is more concerned with atmosphere and characters than intricate plotting, though there's some surprising wrenches thrown into the story. On a more subtle level, he explores how people depend on and use each other. Hall turns in a mesmerizing career performance as the obsessively controlling gambler.
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