Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.
Release Date: October 17th, 1986 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Martin Scorsese Actors: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, John Turturro, Bill Cobbs, Forest Whitaker
ecades have passed, but “Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) hasn’t stopped inhabiting poolhalls – and finding other ways to make a few bucks engaging in unscrupulous businesses (this time with whiskey). At a bar in Illinois with his partner Julian (John Turturro), the latest hustler he stakes, Eddie scopes out young Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise), who has a jackhammer of a break (and various other skills on the table, described using specific jargon). Vincent is too much of a show-off, however, and he uses his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) to arrange matches – yet another area of amateurishness. But the kid’s skills are exceptional. And with the right teacher, perhaps riches – and hustles – await.
“I never kid about money.” Eddie lives and breathes hustling, studying people all around him, always identifying weaknesses and ways to manipulate them. And he sees a younger version of himself in Vincent. Although it’s been 25 years since “The Hustler,” this sequel maintains a similar vibe to the original. The roles have reversed, with Felson now serving as the mentor (the stakehorser), taking on a fresh disciple, but the themes and the actions are quite faithful.
“That’s the problem with mercy, kid. It just ain’t professional.” Despite the efforts taken to make “The Color of Money” a recognizable follow-up, it adopts a few too many similarities, generating the very same problem from before: none of the characters are particularly likable or sympathetic. There’s a tremendous learning curve with the cocky, impetuous youngster; he oftentimes appears too naive even during obvious scams. He’s simply not cut out to be a hustler; he wants to play to win rather than play to win money. And his shrewd girlfriend, who plies her target in her own way, seems as if she’ll betray him at any moment. Plus, while Felson is older and seasoned, his behavior hasn’t changed much; his motivations aren’t far removed from those that moved him years earlier, prompting him to make repetitive mistakes and perhaps even feel regret.
“Money won is twice as sweet as money earned.” Fortunately, a father/son dynamic here overtakes the master/pupil one from before (eventually coming full circle when dealing with lessons to dish out and to learn), imparting a slightly lighter-hearted touch. But the fancy-shot montages still eat up screentime, while the pacing overall is notably slow, chiefly with far too many sequences during which prominent soundtrack songs preside over cash changing hands or determined glares signifying sunk shots (or the ever-popular ball-cam from down on the table).
One of the major change-ups finally occurs at the finale, which is centered around an Atlantic City tournament rather than a private bar room duel, yet even this shift is bittersweet; pitting Eddie against Vincent isn’t the showdown audiences will want to see, as it does nothing for the characters themselves. They were never enemies, nor does it prove anything should one outplay the other. There are still a few surprises that have the potency to remain memorable, but, ultimately, when devious, dishonest people use one another for two hours, the end result is rarely satisfying.
– Mike Massie