1986’s The Color of Money isn’t a sequel, exactly, but continues the story of “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman), began in the Robert Rossen 1961 classic, The Hustler. With acclaimed director Martin Scorsese at the helm, Eddie Felson is such a different type of character, it’s perhaps best to decouple the two films in order to fully enjoy the later.
At the end of The Hustler, after beating his rival Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), Fast Eddie walked out of the pool hall in search of a new life. Twenty-five years later, Eddie’s been making a very good living selling knock-off liquor and backing the occasional pool player. While marking time with a Chicago barkeep an occasional lover (Helen Shaver) Eddie can’t help but notice the raw talent of a cocky, young pool player named Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) who has just easily defeated his latest protégée (John Turturro). Eddie hasn’t picked up a pool cue in a quarter century, but he knows Vince is special.
This kid isn’t just a good pool player. Eddie realizes he’s a “flake” That means with Eddie as coach, this kid’s flakiness could throw off big name pool players; they could make a mint in the world of big-money pool! Of course, the challenge will be to train the kid to turn his flakiness on and off as he wishes—making money will be the only priority.
Eddie begins luring Vincent, a task that becomes easy once Eddie realizes that Vincent’s girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), is every bit as scrupulous as Eddie. A tough girl with a background in petty crime, she enjoys hustling people. Eddie is sauté enough to know that he can make a deal with Carmen; together, they’ll control Vince and keep his eye on the money. A deal is struck: together, they’ll manipulate and mold Vincent into the kind of player he needs to be to win big at a Nine Ball Tournament in Atlantic City.
It comes as no surprise when the trip doesn’t go as planned. Carmen quickly learns that she’s an amateur at the art of the con; Vince is forced to grow up, though his pride still gets in the way. But it’s Eddie who suffers the most. While watching Vince play top-rated player Grady Seasons (pool pro Keith McCready), and you can almost see his interest shift from the hustle to a pure love for the game of pool. It’s been twenty-five years, but Eddie wants to be in the middle of the action again. Abandon by Eddie, Carmen and Vince are forced to make their own way in Atlantic City.
Now on his own, and bitten by the pool bug, we see signs of the Eddie that inhabited The Hustler. This is particularly evident during a series of matches between Eddie and a young shark (Forest Whitaker) who embarrasses the old-timer. This compels Eddie to start practicing with abandon. By now, it’s a foregone conclusion that he and Vince will meet across the table in Atlantic City, but just where the story goes from there is anything but predictable.
Martin Scorsese finds several ways to make the pool games interesting: sometimes shooting from a ball’s point of view, other times taking the camera high to observe the action; the spectators fixated on the action. While Scorsese does an admirable job here, the pacing is a bit slow, and the film is unlike anything he’d been involved in before. It’s hard not to think of him as a director for hire trying to have a huge commercial success to obtain the funding for The Last Temptation of Christ.
Loosely adapted by screenwriter Richard Price from the 1984 novel by Walter Tevis, The Color of Money is by far Paul Newman’s movie. While it’s probably not his best performance—that honor would probably go to Hud or Cool Hand Luke—it’s an accomplished portrayal and a more mature interpretation of Eddie Felson. Newman’s performance in The Color of Money finally won him a Best Actor Oscar on the seventh try.
Framed in its original 1:85.1 aspect ratio, Disney’s 1080p transfer is a real disappointment. This surprisingly lackluster presentation offers some detail in far away shots but not a lot. Far too much digital manipulation results in several bleached out spots on the actors, as well as various objects. Colors are dull and sharpness is inconsistent. While this transfer may offer the slightest improvement over the last DVD release, I’m not sure it’s enough to justify the upgrade.
The Blu-ray’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 track fares much better. Dialogue is nicely recorded and resides firmly in the center channel. The various pop tunes used on the soundtrack come through nicely in the fronts and the rears. While not much has been done to enhance background sounds in the pool halls and such, nice bass can be heard via the LFE channel.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are available.
This disc has no special features.
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