Sidney (Hall) - old, well-kept - approaches a roadside café. John (Reilly) - young, down-and-out - is slumped in front of the joint. Sidney offers John cigarettes and coffee, $50 and a ride to Vegas, and advice on playing the money at the crap tables. Reno, two years later, and the stakes have doubled. John's making a steady living gambling under Sidney's tutelage; he's also hooked up with Clementine (Paltrow), a cocktail waitress who turns tricks on the side. Outside Sidney's orbit is John's pal Jimmy (Jackson), a small-time hood with scant respect for Sidney - a catalyst for trouble. There's a timeless quality to this first feature (from the director of Boogie Nights): while owing particular debts to the low-life worlds of '40s B-movies and '70s neo-noir, it could have been made almost any time in the last 50 years. But it's in no way a pastiche. With a smart, savvy, but unshowy script and quietly confident direction, this is a subtle, understated reworking of noir conventions. Jackson and Paltrow both prove their talents as character actors; Reilly brings a credible, wide-eyed fecklessness to his part; and Baker Hall is a revelation.