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Film / Cigarettes & Coffee

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Cigarettes & Coffee is a 1993 short film (24 minutes) written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

It revolves around three groups of people who all find themselves in a roadside diner, at some unmentioned location that apparently isn't that far from Las Vegas. At one table is a very nervous younger man—his name is eventually revealed as Douglas Walker—who is telling a much calmer older man (played by Philip Baker Hall) a story about the young man's wife cheating on him with his best friend Steve. At another table a newlywed husband is angrily berating his wife about losing a large amount of money at craps. Also, there's a vaguely sinister man named Bill (Miguel Ferrer) who has a long and inscrutable conversation on the pay phone outside the diner, before coming in to the counter for coffee.

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This film got made when P.T. Anderson, then a production assistant on a TV movie, gave his script to Philip Baker Hall, who was starring in the movie. It was financed with borrowed money and ten grand that Ernie Anderson, his father, had put away for his college. The film was a hit at Sundance and other festivals and got Anderson started on a feature film career. Elements of this film, namely Philip Baker Hall being a vaguely mobbed-up fixer type who gives advice to a young man in a diner, were re-used in Anderson's first feature film, Hard Eight.

Not to be confused with Jim Jarmusch feature Coffee and Cigarettes.


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Tropes:

  • Conversation Cut: Bill says "And then what happened?" while he's on the phone outside; cut to Douglas saying "I went back in the casino" after giving the $20 to Steve.
  • Flashback: Douglas tells the story of how he found out his wife was cheating on him. He has a ritual of signing a $10 or $20 before he goes gambling. He did just that the night before, only to give it to his buddy Steve when Steve asked for some cash. He later finds the $20 again—in the hotel room he's sharing with his wife, right next to his bed.
  • Hitler Cam: Used for a shot of Douglas and Steve when Douglas is relating his story about giving Steve the $20.
  • Hyperlink Story: Characters are linked by a $20 bill with Douglas's name on it. Douglas gave it to Steve, then got it back and gambled with it. Someone brought the $20 into the diner. The old man receives the $20 as change and drops it on the floor when he realizes that it's Doug's. Then the wife scoops it up off the floor as they're leaving.
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  • Irrevocable Message: Douglas is nervous because apparently he put a hit out on Steve and his wife and now he wants to stop it, but he doesn't know how to contact the hitman, as the message was sent through an intermediary. And in fact it's at least partially too late, as the ending reveals that Bill is the hitman and Steve is tied up in the trunk of his car.
  • Newhart Phonecall: We never do find out just what Bill is talking about with the person he called.
  • No Name Given: For the old man or the married couple. The nervous man is never addressed by name but is revealed to be "Douglas Walker" when his $20 turns up.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Bill driving away, Steve still in the trunk.
  • Punk in the Trunk: It turns out that Bill is the hitman carrying out Douglas's job, and Steve is Bound and Gagged but still alive (for the moment, anyway) in the trunk of Bill's car.
    Bill: "Almost home, Stevie!"
  • Title Drop: The old man places great importance on getting his coffee ready and his cigarette lit before having a conversation, much to the irritation of Douglas, who is very nervous.
  • Trunk Shot: Used for a shot of Bill opening his trunk, right before we find out what's in the trunk.

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