1986, Martin Scorsese

The premise for The Color of Money is an intriguing one; take a character portrayed on screen 25 years ago, and present him as he would be in the modern day, utilizing the same actor to capture the man. It’s a great idea with a ton of potential, but Martin Scorese’s film fumbles the ball in bringing that idea to the screen.

The thing that made The Hustler work was that it wasn’t a movie about pool at all; with barely any actual pool scenes in the 120+ minute film, it made it clear that it was a character drama first and foremost. It dove into the head of Fast Eddie Felson and his roller coaster ride from the opening game to the final one, peeling away the layers of this character and letting Paul Newman bring the house down with a tour de force performance.

The Color of Money's first mistake is a simple one; way too much pool. The plot centers around Felson grooming a young player named Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) to essentially be his successor, a tale as old as time. I liked the setup of Felson as the kind of character that George C. Scott portrayed in Hustler, but they very quickly drove away from that aspect of it and into some bizarre love triangle world with Lauria’s girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).

The character dynamics felt off almost immediately and it only became worse and more forced as it went along. Newman and Cruise don’t have much chemistry at all, thanks mostly to Cruise’s appalling performance. I generally don’t let the aesthetics of a character get in the way of my appreciation of a film, especially in the ’80s, but Cruise’s hair made it almost impossible for me to take this clown seriously and the actor himself followed in suit by portraying Lauria as the biggest dork in the business, the kind of guy that Eddie Felson would never even give the time of day to.

A lot of the film moves along with no real grasp on it’s characters and for the majority of it I couldn’t find a way to understand the motivations of these characters at all. This probably stems from the fact that Richard Price’s script builds itself entirely around actual pool playing instead of working on it’s characters (which is ironic given the film’s fantastic ending) and Scorsese is more focused on trying (and failing) to make slick and exciting montages of balls going into pockets instead of looking into the character’s motivations.

It doesn’t help that the film builds itself up as one thing for the entire first hour and then, with no natural progression at all, transforms itself into something completely different. It’s practically two separate films that they tried to glue into one and the pieces don’t go together at all. Mastrantonio gives an effectively seductive performance, but she looks bored half of the time, and it seems like the only person here who is really doing their job properly is Newman.

He (finally) won an Oscar for his performance and it’s easy to see why; Newman fits right back into the shoes of Felson as if he never left them, making you believe firmly that this guy had existed all of those twenty-five years between the time we last saw him and now. There’s a lifetime of emotions and experiences buried in those eyes, and it’s one of the rare performances that Newman turns his charm completely off, instead of utilizing it in one way or another. He’s a very broken soul, as we can tell even before he can acknowledge it within himself, and it’s the only thing that’s working properly in this mess of a production.

D-

Film #36 of The 365 Film Challenge.