Aging gambler Sydney takes struggling John under his wing - helping him raise money for his mother's funeral, then taking him onboard as his protégé. Just when things start to go well John's love for an occasional hooker gets him into trouble and Sydney's past catches up with him.
The Reno setting provides a nice downbeat counterpoint to the usual Vegas gambling movie but Anderson's art direction and cinematography style of expensive-looking-normality aren't quite honed yet, and the photography is often a little off the mark with focus and compositions. The movies strives for the unpredictability of something like David Mamet's House of Games, but the script is a little laborious, trying to be twisty-turny like Elmore Leonard but a lot of the characters just don't have the depth.
Gwyneth Paltrow is miscast as the hooker, but Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John C Reilly put in calling card performances that would lead them onto bigger things - even if it was Anderson himself who answered the phone. It's Phillip Baker Hall's movie though, and he exudes presence in every scene like a timeless star of the seventies from an alternate universe.