Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Throw-Back Movie Review: "The Color of Money" by Ben Foutch


Release: 1986
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers:  Richard Price (screenplay),  Walter Tevis (novel),
Stars: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and John Tuturo
Rated: R
Run Time: 119 min



The Color of Money is a sequel to the vastly superior The Hustler, where Paul Newman plays the mentor this time around and Tom Cruise the young and naive pool virtuoso.  Paul Newman won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role reprisal of "Fast" Eddie Nelson, which feels a little belated considering his performance in the previous installment.  Martin Scorsese's unnecessary, but welcome sequel is entertaining and satisfying yet doesn't carry the emotional weight needed to put this story to a close.

Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), a former pool hustler, is now an older, wiser liquor salesman. Seeing, a little bit of himself and the opportunity to make some serious dough in the rebellious Vincent (Tom Cruise), Eddie invites him on the road to hustle their way to a major pool tournament. On the road with Vincent and his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the three hit a rough patch that stems from Eddie being hustled. Eddie, feeling ashamed, leaves the group and dedicates the remaining time until the tournament, practicing his pool game. He enters into the tournament and must face his former disciple in an epic showdown that will test both of their limits.

There is an interesting dynamic between Eddie and Vincent. Eddie, at one point in his life was much like Vincent; young, naive, and showing no character. So, you can see why he would want to take Vincent under his wing. However, Vincent is still a money making machine, so there is incentive to use him for personal gain. Most of the film involves these two butting heads while Eddie attempts to teach the stubborn, show-boating youngster the secrets to being a true hustler. It is this aspect of passing down the torch that takes out some of the serious tones, and adds some humor. At the same time it is sort of frustrating, in the sense that, at the end of the film, Vincent is at a similar place in his life that Eddie was at the beginning of The Hustler. Why would Eddie turn Vincent into something that could potentially damage his future? Had he not learned anything from his experience twenty years ago? Sure, he was not a cold-hearted businessman like Burt in the previous film, and he did teach Vincent a particular set of skills, but just because you have the power to create something, doesn't necessarily give you the right to.

I like the continuation of Eddie's story, and his return to his one true passion. However, this feels much more like an above average sport's drama than an emotional powerhouse like the previous film. Most of the emotional weight comes from being familiar with the previous film, so if you are going to give this a shot, definitely see The Hustler first. Sometimes it's nice to reinvent the wheel so to speak, but it in this case it felt kind of pointless. The first film was powerful and thought-provoking while The Color of Money is a fun night at the movies. I'm not saying that this is a waste of time, because it is definitely not. This showcases more pool-room action and in-game suspense; Cruise appears to be having a blast twirling around those pool cues. There is also a great shot near the end of Paul Newman's reflection on the surface of an eight-ball. If you aren't looking for something too deep, then you might be okay with the way that this story unfolds.

It is surprising to me that after all these years that this film doesn't feel dated, with the exception of some musical choices. I can see this being a fun, relatable film for many generations, assuming it doesn't become completely forgotten in the dusty ruins of older, less classic releases. Regardless of its ties to The Hustler, The Color of Money can still be seen as a standalone film, making Eddie's character more mysterious and intriguing if you haven't seen the first one. It will probably be much less frustrating if you haven't. All in all, I'm glad that it exists, because it's one of the more enjoyable, unique sports dramas out there.