Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Screenwriters: Paul Thomas Anderson

Institute History


Along the hotel-room frontier of Reno, there isn’t much that passes for family. Friendships are as shallow as the free drinks served in the casinos. When we first see John (John C. Reilly), he looks like a man thrown overboard from the ship of life as he sits shivering and alone outside a diner. Inexplicably, the distinguished and mysterious Sydney (Philip Baker Hall) helps him up, buys him coffee, offers him a ride. Sydney is an aging gambler with an unexplained urge to impart his knowledge and skill to a protégé. John begins to trust him, and so do we.

Years later, Sydney has taught John everything he knows about exploiting gambling casinos. John has been a quick learner but has never picked up Sydney’s talent for tact and restraint. When he falls in love with Clementine, a young prostitute, things get complicated, and Sydney must take control like never before. There is great pathos in Hall’s performance; we detect insurmountable sadness from just the look in his eyes. Reilly plays John with maddening effectiveness; he is a decent, but clueless, soul who doesn’t necessarily deserve Sydney’s protection. Samuel L. Jackson stands out as a suave and deadly gadabout who steers John off course. The film unfolds as if from a time-release capsule, and curiosity about each character intensifies. Intriguing in its storytelling style, Sydney is writer/director Paul Anderson’s first feature film.

— Christian Gaines

Screening Details

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