Seattle Times, Written By James Hartl
March 3rd, 1997
In Robert Altman's Secret Honor (1984), Philip Baker Hall did a dazzling impersonation of Richard Nixon that dwarfs Anthony Hopkins' recent caricature in Oliver Stone's Nixon.
More than a decade later, he's getting his second shot at a big movie role in Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight, an enigmatic four-character film noir that opened in theaters Friday. Hall plays a veteran Reno gambler named Sydney who adopts John (John C. Reilly), a down-and-out young stranger, for no apparent reason. Gwyneth Paltrow is Clementine, a cocktail waitress who marries John, and Samuel L. Jackson is Jimmy, a crook who complicates their lives.
When he first saw Altman's film on television, Anderson was a music-video production assistant and dabbler in short films. He bought the video of the movie and decided he had to work with Hall.
"I thought, 'This is a brilliant performance,' then for the next 10 years I saw him crop up in roles that weren't good enough for him,'' said Anderson by phone from a California editing room.
"He's one of the great undiscovered actors. The kinds of parts he plays tend to go to Gene Hackman or Robert Duvall. A lot of those kinds of actors are seriously underused, and no one knows they're out there."