“The Color of Money” – 1986. Dir. Martin Scorsese. With Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and John Tuturro.
“You gotta have two things to win. You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls. Now, you got too much of one and not enough of the other.”
This film catches up with Fast Eddie Felson twenty-five years since we last saw him in “The Hustler”. Now Fast Eddie is older, wiser and a liquor salesman. He’s no longer a pool player, but he’s still a hustler. The film opens with a great narration by director Martin Scorsese explaining the rules of nine ball and how luck is an art form to some people.
Eddie Felson is still smooth, fast talking and cooler than shit. He may be older, but Newman had aged so well, I’d even have slept with him. This time around Eddie meets Vincent, a young, fast talking, charismatically egotistical young pool hustler. He is a mirrored image of Eddie thirty years ago.
Eddie than gets to know Vincent, and his domineering girlfriend Carmen, and the three of them embark to Atlantic City to enter into the country’s biggest billiard tournament. Along the way, they hustle and get to know one another. Newman takes on the role of George C. Scott from the first film; he takes on the role of the mentor to Cruise. He tries to break Vince’s ego, and tries to get him to hone his skills.
Newman is excellent (that goes without saying) – but Cruise gives one of his top five performances of his career as the young and cocky pool shark. Mastrantonio gives a decent performance (although I’ve never been much of a fan of hers) and Helen Shaver who plays Eddie’s girlfriend is terrible.
I know you’ll tire of me stating this, but “The Color of Money” wasn’t a personal project for Scorsese – but – the entire film feels like a vintage Scorsese film. His use of popular music is impeccable, he uses Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Robert Palmer and in one of my all time favorite Scorsese scenes ever, “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon.
Scorsese is a master at brilliantly executing his shots. Once the three of them reach Atlantic City and they enter the pool hall, there is an amazing shot of the three of them standing in profile. Newman and Cruise play off of each other so well; it’s a shame that they never made another film with each other.
I’ve said for a long time that Newman winning his long overdue Oscar for “The Color of Money” was a make-up Oscar. It is and it isn’t. Bob Hoskins should have won that year for Neil Jordan’s “Mona Lisa” – but Newman is pretty fucking great in his second turn as Eddie Felson. The film comes down to an epic show down between Vincent and Eddie – and it’s wonderful to watch. Paul Newman is the man.
The authenticity is what makes the film flow incredibly well. All of the shots of Newman and Cruise playing pool are actually them making the shots. There’s not fancy camera editing and cuts to trick us into believing that Newman and Cruise are making these shots, they actually are.
I found myself wondering why George C. Scott or Jackie Gleason’s characters weren’t mentioned, or even had cameos. I think the answer to that is that Eddie left that life, and doesn’t refer back to it ever – until he meets Vincent. What I really enjoy about “The Color of Money” is that the film exists on its own terms. It doesn’t rely, or even need “The Hustler” to exists. One quick note – Jake LaMotta was in the first film, “The Hustler”, and LaMotta was the center of Scorsese’s so-called masterpiece “Raging Bull”. So maybe this film is a little more personal than I thought?