Hard Eight is the feature film debut of Paul Thomas Anderson, and it's a rather strong showing first time at bat. This is most obvious in the opening set of scenes that open the film where the older man Sydney seems to randomly help out a young man John by showing him a neat trick to get setup as a high roller in Vegas. The entire sequence is spellbinding in its own unassuming way. Now once that ends it does not maintain that height, but that's not really saying too much. It still remains a compelling character study through Philip Baker Hall's great performance. Even though the plot develops are not exactly amazing the film succeeds on Anderson's ability as a director, his ability as a writer in terms of dialogue, and the performances of the entire cast. It ends up being more of a set of scenes than a cohesive whole the way his later films would become, but that's alright since the various scenes are still quite strong, one involving a one scene wonder by Philip Seymour Hoffman is very memorable. There is obvious room for growth to be found in this film, yet it still stands as an indication of a potential master filmmaker.