(1986) dir. Martin Scorsese
After having watched Robert Rossen’s classic pool movie The Hustler (1961), it was hard not to want to watch the semi-sequel that Martin Scorsese shot in 1986, reviving “Fast Eddie” Felson and pairing him with hotshot Tom Cruise. The main qualms I had was that I didn’t really enjoy the movie back in the day when I’d seen it last. That and I hate Tom Cruise. But still, circles must be completed.
Whereas The Hustler is a slick, somewhat timeless-feeling film, with its beautiful black-and-white cinematography, jazz soundtrack, and excellent stars Paul Newman, George C. Scott, and Jackie Gleason, Scorsese is stuck in a time, the 1980’s. Almost dead center. And part of the whole point of the story is that it is 25 years later, the world has changed, “Fast Eddie” has changed, but going from a timelessness to a timeliness works mostly against the film. The 1980’s here are some of the worst hairdo’s, clothing, and music. It’s a little painful at times. Tom’s coiffure would give Vanilla Ice a run for his money.
That said, the film does have stretches, around the pool tables, and in others, where the story and the cinematography are more energetic and stylish. Scorsese is no hack. In fact, he’s one of the better filmmakers of his day and he pumps some slick and interesting sequences and gets some decent performances from his cast. Tom Cruise is a total asshole in the movie, cocky, egotistical, and shallow. The thing that always annoyed me about Cruise was that he always played a hotshot, no matter what job it was, he was the hotshot. In The Color of Money, it’s pool. In Top Gun (1986), he’s a hotshot pilot. In Cocktail (1988), he’s a hotshot bartender. In Days of Thunder (1990), he’s a hotshot racecar driver. In The Firm (1993), it’s an attorney hotshot. At least here, being a hotshot doesn’t make you the hero.
The film is really pretty decent, to be honest. It’s not the classic by a long shot that The Hustler turned out to be, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I think I actually enjoyed it a bit more than I was expecting, having not remembered it particularly fondly. It was kind of interesting to revisit it. When I first became interested in “film”, Scorsese was one of the first directors that I got into. And I think that this was the first of his new films that I saw once I was “interested” in film. I think I got interested in part after liking After Hours (1985). Anyways, I did see this on its initial release, and so returning to it now, 23 years later…jeez. Maybe someone could make a film about Tom Cruise’s character 25 years later, after this one. Maybe that would be interesting.
Also interesting, and I throw this out there purely for trivia purposes, is that the author from whose books both The Hustler and The Color of Money were adapted, Walter Tevis, is also the author of The Man Who Fell to Earth which Nicolas Roeg adapted with David Bowie into a cult film in 1976. Really, not two things that one would think might go together or to have come from a single source. Just an FYI for those who like to be in the know. For what it’s worth.