Exhibit 15.8

The Hustler and The Color of Money

I've seen The Color of Money probably five times, maybe more. It's hard to say for sure as I've mostly caught ten to twenty minute segments of it on television, usually starting somewhere around Cruise and Newman splitting up before changing channels after Forest Whitacker hustles Newman (the best scene in the movie). For a few years, mostly when I was in college, television was lousy with the movie; I think I even caught it on ESPN2 once. It's just one of those movies that works better cut up with Swiffer commercials than it does standing alone which, I suppose, is its own kind of accomplishment.

It's not Newman's best (even though he won his only Oscar for it) but it might be Cruise's. Also, I'm going to do no research on this topic other than looking up how to spell her name, but I'm positive it's Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's best (don't even give me any of that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves nonsense). There's also Whitaker and a coked-up John Turturro doing the movie's finest work in their limited screen time. And as far as Scorsese goes, it certainly was a detour on the road to Goodfellas, but I think it also presaged on audience-pleasing streak that manifests itself in his recent movies.

It's not a great movie, but I liked it. Liked.

Then I saw the movie it is ostensibly a sequel to, The Hustler, and it ends on a note that makes the existence of The Color of Money impossible. I don't mean physically--it's not as if someone dies and gets resurrected ala Spock--but emotionally it is inconceivable that Newman's character in 1961 grew into the man he portrays in 1986. And even if it could happen, how he got there should be the movie not what he does once he gets there. At the end of The Hustler, Newman is disillusioned and broken, well on his way to killing himself with booze or a stubborn refusal to back down or, most likely, both. It's a great ending. It's a great movie.

Then, through 25 years of abstaining from pool but with great success hanging around pool--you know, sort of like how addicts do best when hanging around people consuming their drug of choice openly and without negative consequences--Newman's Fast Eddie decides that he wants to relive his traumatic experience as a young hustler only in the role of the man who broke him.

Here's what this is like:

It's like if Hamlet ended right before the climactic sword fight and then, in a sequel, an old Hamlet is running around ear-poisoning his enemies.

It's like if George, after killing Lennie, grows old and decides to become a senile, bunny-petting migrant worker because, hey, what could go wrong.

It's like if Dr. Wayne Szalinski decided after his disastrous shrinking ray to create an enlargement ray. Um, never mind.

At the end of The Hustler, Newman's character is essentially offered the chance to become Newman's character in The Color of Money. He's disgusted. He knows what he has to kill inside himself to win, and he can't do it. Until, 25 years later, he can not only do it but wants to recruit others to do it, too. It's not unusual to decry a sequel for its disposability but rarely is one so antagonistic toward its precursor's ethos.

There's a reason why Newman's moral dilemma comes off as shallow in Color while George C. Scott is perfectly sleazy in The Hustler (was Scott always that good? I haven't seen Patton, and can't say I really care to, but he's great in The Hustler). Newman can't have internal conflict because the thing that makes his character memorable is how stark his choices are. He's a loser or a winner. He's got character or he doesn't. He's either given up his principles or he hasn't. Either way, there doesn't seem to be a path that leads him to where (they tell us) he is 25 years later.

That's the problem with making sequels using indelible characters. They're ours, not yours.


carlinthemarlin said...

Two things. One: George C Scott is always that good. And I haven't even seen the Hustler.

Two: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was a family favorite when I was growing up. I watched it again recently. It is really bad. Like, just godawful. The only thing that makes it watchable is Alan Rickman, who is predictably badass.

Anonymous said...

You call 'The Color Of Money' Tom Cruise's "best" & think to doubt the greatness of George C Scott all in one post?

tsk tsk

A. Peterson said...

Wait, are there really so many other great Tom Cruise performances out there that that's an absurd thing to say? I don't even dislike the guy like most seem to, but I also don't think the competition is really that strong here. Magnolia?

If it were socially acceptable to do so, I'd probably go with Cocktail.

As for Mr. Scott, let's just say it was more of an awakening to his greatness than a questioning. I'm sold.

Anonymous said...

should i write a magnum opus blog comment about tom cruise or not bother with this any more?

A. Peterson said...

I think you have to now.