Movie of the Day – The Hustler
July 14, 2012 Leave a comment
I am sure that everyone at some time or another have fancied themselves a fine pool player. You go to bars, have a few drinks, and then “hey there’s a pool table. Let’s play a few breaks”. It happens a lot, more so to me, but you start playing and then you think you’re hot shit and a general pool shark of the sorts who thinks they can hustle people. Well after watching The Hustler with Paul Newman being the ultimate man, I realized that I am woefully under prepared for a life of pool hustling and I fucking suck compared to what is shown in this movie. Also the pool hustlers life isn’t that glamorous as it turns out. Regardless, if you are an avid pool player or some guy who just has a pool table for aesthetic purposes, then you have at least seen The Hustler once in your life.
As The Hustler’s “Fast” Eddie Felson, Paul Newman created a classic antihero, charismatic but fundamentally flawed, and nobody’s role model. A pool player from Oakland, CA, as good as anyone who ever picked up a cue, Eddie has an Achilles’ heel: arrogance. It’s not enough for him to win: he must force his opponent to acknowledge his superiority. The movie follows Eddie from his match against billiards champ Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) as he falls in love with Sarah (Piper Laurie), an alcoholic would-be writer and sometime prostitute, and falls under the spell of Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), a successful gambler who offers to take Eddie under his wing and teach him how to play in the big time. However, when Sarah joins Eddie and Bert on a trip to Louisville for a high-stakes match with a dandy named Findlay (Murray Hamilton), the consequences prove tragic. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
How Paul Newman was passed over for an Oscar award for the role of Fast Eddie is beyond incomprehensible. The role of Fast Eddie is a complex character, an unlikely lead and hero for the audience of the 60s to follow along with. We are watching a man who is amazing at what he does and knows it. Using his talents to assert himself at the top of his game, but the one weakness that he has is arrogance. His hubris and pride are too high for him to give a damn, often brow beating opponents to admitting to his superiority. It’s a weird notion that we are supposed to feel something for a character who cares only for his skills and placement in the game. Not much of a hero’s journey, but the story lends itself to a complex play on winning, losing and life.
While the film is filled with excellent pool playing, it’s really the actors that are on display. Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott are nothing short of amazing in this movie. With Newman taking the lead for the film, it’s Gleason and Scott how act as the mirror in which Newman refuses to see the error in his ways. Gleason plays Minnesota Fats, the top man in the pool hustle game, who is rational and sees himself like Fast Eddie at one time. He tries to appeal to Fast Eddie numerous times in a game to quit while he is ahead and show a little grace, knowing that his path will not lead to happiness. Scott as Bert, the pro gambler, is an undervalued character in the film. He is meant to push Eddie out of the life, hoping that setting him up to fail in numerous games will get Eddie to give it all up once his options are out, at least that is what I think.
Ultimately, The Hustler is a truly different sort of sports drama where the pangs of winning are bitter sweet. There isn’t a happy outcome or trophy to be had or even the feeling of going out on top. Newman has to play a man that deals with his arrogance and the costs that brings him in life. It’s a conflict that is rich, layered and offers up insight in the human mind and spirit. The concept of weighing the costs of winning and losing, all for the thrill of being the best. What I found surprising is that this may masquerade as a sports movie, but it complex drama that delivers powerful performances from Newman, Glean, Scott and Laurie. It brought me a lot of joy to see that Newman reprises his role as Fast Eddie in the 1986, Scorsese directed film The Color of Money. And that role won him an Oscar, which should have gone to his original role in The Hustler, but hey, he won one.