The Hustler Reviews
"They Called Him Fast Eddie"
Well this masterpiece is a new favorite of mine. The Hustler is one of the best character driven movies ever made. It's easy to see how Scorsese drew influence from this with Raging Bull. The film is perfect in every single aspect. I loved everything about it. From the first epic pool battle between Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats to the depressing and heart wrenching conclusion; this is a film that is just amazing in everything it is doing. Pool is used a backdrop for a character study on Eddie Felson, and the way everything is pulled together is just fantastic.
Eddie Felson, played by Paul Newman, is a pool shark, a hustler. He has been moving around the country with his partner hustling bars and pool halls for cash. He's cocky and he's good, so he thinks there isn't anyone out there that can beat him. So he goes looking for the guy everyone claims is the best pool player in the country; a man who hasn't lost in 15 years, Minnesota Fats. Eddie doesn't just want Fats' money; he wants to destroy him. The first pool scene with Eddie and Fats' sets up the rest of the film perfectly. We know Eddie's personality and the conflicts he is going to face throughout the film. He doesn't know when to quit, be it if he is winning or losing. We wait a long time to see the reunion between Eddie and Fats and when it comes it isn't what you expect, because of the enormity of what just happened in the story. It just really doesn't matter anymore.
The acting in The Hustler is as good as you would expect. Paul Newman is at his best, with an Oscar Nominated performance. The supporting cast is phenomenal as well, especially Piper Laurie, who plays Sarah Packard; Eddie's love interest. Her character ends up complicating the film in ways I didn't see coming. George C. Hall and Jackie Gleason are also on top form, and all three were also nominated for Oscars. The cinematography won and Oscar and it is clear why, the film is beautifully shot in black and white. There's a lot of clever camera work and some amazing use of lighting and scenery.
This is a classic that is highly praised, but deserves even more praise than it has gotten. It's a masterpiece. I could watch this movie countless times and I would always be intrigued by it. The setup is amazing and when everything that happens, happens, it is devastating, but so well done that it feels almost natural; like that is what needed to happen. As of today, I have yet to see Scorsese's sequel The Color of Money(I'll be watching it real soon), but I am very interested to see how the aftermath of Eddie's life would be handled by such a talented director like Scorsese. I don't expect it to be to the level of The Hustler because I just don't think that is possible, but it should at least be interesting.
The black and white photography looks absolutely gorgeous, creating a captivating atmosphere. The editing is well executed also, featuring a mix of dissolves, wipes, hard cuts, and brilliant intercutting that really elevates the tension during the game scenes. The music is also quite wonderful- nice jazz music that really brings the themes, characters, and situations to life: really timeless stuff.
While all of the performances are absolutely perfect, this is truly Paul Newman's film. Gleason exudes a calm, yet menacing wisdom, Scott nails the greedy soulless vulture role (and keeps it from being cliched), Laurie gives a deep and heartbreaking performances as the moral center, and McCormick is also great as the old friend, mentor, and partner who really was a better fit than he got credit for. As I said though, this is Newman's film. This is one of those performances that will truly stick out in history, and that's saying a lot considering some of his other great roles. Newman is sharp, charming, and someone you care for, despite his flaws, no matter how big they are. His redemption is earned, although it comes at a terribly high price.
I can't recommend this enough. I'm sure it already gets studied enough in film classes across the country (and rightly so), but the attention paid to it wll never be undeserved. As a bit of closing trivia, besides the earlier reference to Raging Bull, here's some more. Now, everyone probably knows that both Raging Bull and The Color of Money (the sequel to The Hustler) were directed by Martin Scorsese, but how about this one: Jake LaMotta appears in a cameo in this film as one of the bartenders-that's great.
Eventually, even greater odds will give Eddie irreparable blows, taking him to finally understand the character that takes to function, both in the pool table as in his broken-down life. At the end he gets what he desired the most, full field his dream on the pool table, but he paid the most terrible price for it.
Paul Newman gives an outstanding performance as the young, talented, arrogant and uncontrollable pool player 'Fast' Eddie Felson, a tragic figure who succumbs to the machinations of money and success and will find comfort in the company of Sarah, his lonely and handicapped girlfriend, also brilliantly played by Piper Laurie, the only person who truly loves Eddie and looks after him regardless of anything.
Robert Rossen's writing (with Sidney Carroll and adapting Walter Tevis novel) and direction, Eugen Schüfftan's cinematography and Dede Allen's montage are the pillars that achieve the film's austere atmosphere, a rare blend of extreme pessimism and lyrical quality; a risky vital quest, the frailness and futility of human existence and the brief sense of liberation given by alcohol; mixed up feelings intensified by the incredible performances of the two leads and a pair of equally great co-stars, Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott. A masterpiece of profound significance.