For a non-billiards-player, one might cavil this monochromatic classic seems to be a shade monotonous for the first half an hour of the running time, although one will surely be stunned by Newman and Gleason's pool table panache, but thanks to its confined layout and dooming denouement, a game predestined to lose for Newman with a prolonged battle against sleepiness and spiked by alcohol intake, all too familiar and stale to prompt a taut vibe. However, things are getting better, when Sarah (Laurie) being introduced to this male-crammed coterie, she lights up the screen instantly, a damaged cripple longing for a secure relationship, her chimera would eventually be shattered into pieces to cement her lover Eddie's (Newman) "character" which is prerequisite for him to be the top pick among the bunch. Laurie's intuitively destructive performance enables the film to be more affecting than the usual offerings where female-roles are decorative and neglectful.
Newman also stretches out in his best form to deliver the gamut of emotions through the narrative arc, deadly charming as he is, Eddie is a far cry being a complete likable fellow as he appears to be, even finally he beats Minnesota Fats (Gleason) and valiantly defies and censures Bert's (Scott) greed and vileness, he still bears a certain degree of responsibility to the tragedy occurred before, in the end, he is more a repentant sinner than a victorious hero. Each of the four actors (Newman, Laurie, Gleason and Scott) grabbed an Oscar nomination for his or her work, both competing in the supporting actor category, retrospectively speaking, Scott's flagrant menace isn't a too taxing requirement out of his comfortable zone, while Gleason's reserved taciturnity implies much more chewy undertones than he purports to be, which positively suggests his background story would spin another gripping and morally-ambiguous tale easily. Personally I give the edge to Gleason.
Other than a sterling cluster of awards-worthy performances, THE HUSTLER is elegantly conducted by Robert Rossen, a gone-too-soon figure in Hollywood manufacture (passed away at the age of 57 in 1966), conscientiously teases out the best of his cast under a low-key production paddings and represents us a visceral parable on human nature's weakness.
P.S. The next step for me to dig into Newman's oeuvre is the unofficial sequel THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986), a Scorsese's production belatedly gave Newman a golden statue which he should have won decades ago.