The Actors Chewdio was established in 1984 by founding members (and legendary thespians) Francois Van Varenberg, Charles Buchinsky, Michael Gardenzio, Kurt Vogel, and Thomas Mapother. Since its inception, The Actors Chewdio has been a shining beacon of quality within the acting community; producing exemplary performers at a level of talent and professionalism that all others aspire to reach. The organization is lead today by Chairman Hans Lundgren and it is with his gratuitous blessing that we bring you this procession of literary specimens aimed at enlightening lesser folk to the entire cinematic history of the craft’s innumerable transcendent masters…one film at a time!
The Film: The Color of Money (1986)
Writer: Richard Price. Based on the novel by Walter Tevis.
Thespians: Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, Bill Cobbs, John Turturro, Forest Whitaker, Bruce A. Young, Iggy Pop, Ron Dean, Martin Scorsese, etc.
Running Time: 120 minutes
Theatrical Performance: $52,293,982
For any not aware, Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money is a sequel to the 1961 classic The Hustler, both of which are based on the novels of Walter Tevis. Paul Newman’s “Fast” Eddie Felson is our lead in both films, which serve to capture two very important moments in Felson’s life: The “death” and “rebirth” of his spirit. So how do we properly discuss the sequel when the preceding film does not contain our subject, Mr. Cruise? Quite simple really. I was a sneak and covered it already via Movie of the Day. If the mood strikes you, feel free to dive into that piece before continuing this one. If not, no biggie.
When we last saw pool shark Eddie, his soul and zest for life had been eradicated by the mistake made by himself and his then-manager, Bert. These faults unfortunately served to push Eddie’s girlfriend to suicide. While Eddie won both money and respect during the film’s finale for his defeat of billiards champion Minnesota Fats, it was a hollow victory and Felson ultimately walked away from the game that he so loved…both out of necessity and by choice. Cut to 25 years later and Eddie Felson (Paul Newman, reprising his iconic role) is still slinking about pool halls and bars. He is no longer a player, but instead deals in liquor and occasionally manages hot shot hustlers. He has a nice business selling the aforementioned alcohol in bulk to various establishments and a nice relationship with a bar owner named Janelle (Helen Shaver). Eddie is content, but that zest is still missing. Basically, he has spent the past two decades slowly turning into what he hated most: Bert. Eddie hasn’t completely fallen down the rabbit hole of cold-heartedness and monetary obsession, but it is blatantly clear that he’s standing on the precipice. Enter Vincent (Tom Cruise).
Vincent is a hotshot pool player who has too much talent and not enough savvy to know what to do with it. He and girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) eek out a decent living from Vincent’s abilities, but they both want more. Eddie recognizes this desire for fame and fortune all too well. He seems himself within the young Vincent and takes it upon himself to become his manager. At first their relationship is not dissimilar from the one he had with his own manager, but as the film progresses, Eddie begins to care. Things come to a head when two things occur: He realizes that Vincent has little left to learn from him and Eddie himself is shockingly hustled by a local pool shark (a young Forest Whitaker). Feeling useless and humiliated, Eddie urges Vincent and Carmen to go it alone to a big tournament in Atlantic City. Eddie’s initial plan was to return home, but he has a change of heart and decides to enter the tournament himself. He’s got the bug again and wants to know if he’s still “got it”.
What follows is a wonderfully crafted montage of both Vincent and Eddie facing off against various opponents until the the big moment: Vincent vs. Eddie. Who will win? The apprentice or the master? I’m going to go ahead and spoil it for you. Eddie wins, but not how you might expect. You see, Vincent dumps the game. He’d Carmen place a big bet on Eddie and then kept things close until the end to ensure everything looked kosher. Vincent is ecstatic about the whole thing and very pleased with the way he managed to hustler those he was betting. He credits all of Eddie’s teachings with allowing him to pull off such a feat and attempts to give him half of the earnings. Eddie is visibly shocked, but says little. He moves up the ladder in the championship while Vincent goes off to make more money hustling players in the practice room. Eddie’s attitude takes a turn for the worse, culminating in his forfeiting of a semi-final match. The scenes that immediately follow are once again wonderful in their subversion of the expected. We expect Eddie to challenge Vincent to a real pool game. No hustles, no tricks. Skill vs. skill. Master vs. apprentice. We expect a big showdown that culminates in Eddie beating the pants off of Vincent for real. That’s not what happens though.
Eddie challenges Vincent to that expected match, but we never see the actual game itself. As they prepare the table and figure out the shooting order, Eddie tells Vincent that he’s going to beat him. It might not happen this game, but it will at the next tournament. Or the one after that. Or the one after that. Why? Because “I’m back!”, Eddie says, as he launches into his first shot and the credits pull up. Fast Eddie Felson has won, but not the prize we were expecting. The prize isn’t his “groove”. The talent is still there and never left in the first place. It isn’t his dignity either. He won that back the moment he walked out of the tournament and gave Vincent the money back. Eddie has found his zest for life again. Fast Eddie Felson is reborn and the world had better watch out because he is here to stay. It is his Rocky Balboa moment. Eddie has come out of retirement to go the distance once more and in the process has rekindled his soul.
Paul Newman was nominated for Best Actor on The Hustler. That excellent work continued in The Color of Money and rightfully earned him that gold statue this time ’round. Most of the credit for that win goes to Paul himself, but the support he received from the other talent on the project cannot be denied. While honestly a minor film in his overall body of work, director Martin Scorsese was not slouch on this production. His touch is all over the film, from superb cinematography to the musical choices. Of particular note are the various shots of Paul Newman that are direct callbacks to shots of George C. Scott in the original; creating a mirror image for those who watch both films in close proximity to one another. The rest of the cast do their own heavy lifting as well. The supporting and bit roles within host a handful of great characters: Helen Shaver, John Turturro, Forest Whitaker, Bill Cobbs, Ron Dean, Iggy Pop, etc. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio also manages to hold her own between two titans as the manipulative, but sweet Carmen.
Speaking of titans, what of the young buck? If Maverick in Top Gun was the quintessential Cruise role in terms of his loner persona and cocky attitude, Vincent Lauria is those qualities (particularly the latter) pumped up to extreme heights. While there is a naivety and sweetness to Vincent that Maverick lacked, his cocksure personality is a thousand times more obnoxious. We are talking about some who is constantly showing off and making egotistical remarks to his opponents. Hell, on more than one occasion Vincent swings and twirls around his pool cue as if he were Donatello battling the Foot Clan…and making appropriate (at least for his actions) “fighting” noises. Vincent Lauria is the kind of sports opponent that you hope will lose his arms in a freak accident someday due to how awful a winner (and loser) he is. How is Tom in the part? Superb. I literally wanted to knock his teeth out 80% of the time that he was on screen and I credit that entirely to Cruise’s performance. His hairstyle and the fact that he wears a shirt with “VINCE” written in massive letters across his chest only sweetens this cobbler of douchebagery. While there are a few films down the road of Cruise’s that I either haven’t seen in years or have never viewed at all, I will be shocked if I come across one that would make me want to cave his character’s head in with a lead pipe more than this one. Kudos to you, Mr. Cruise. I’m still a fan of yours to this day and even I wanted to kill you in this one.
What Sayeth Humanity?: A mixed to positive reputation, if the ‘net is to be believed. Newman finally brought home an Oscar for his performance, but beyond that The Color of Money doesn’t seem to come up often in conversation. It is seemingly viewed as a minor entry on the resumes of both Martin Scorsese and Tom Cruise. On a side note, it is also the only Martin Scorsese film to receive “two thumbs down” from Roger Ebert (and then partner, the legendary Gene Siskel)! It did, however, cause an immediate spike of interest in the game of pool upon its release…just like The Hustler did 25 years earlier.
What Sayeth Daniel?: I enjoy this film more and more every time I sit down with it. This was probably my fourth viewing and the arc of Newman’s character in particular really clicked for me this time ’round. That likely had a lot to do with the fact that I finally sat down with The Hustler for the first time a few days ago, but that isn’t a strike against Scorsese. Instead it is a positive, given the numerous thematic and cinematic parallels between the two that Marty has worked into his film. The Color of Money isn’t one of the my favorites from Cruise or Scorsese, but it’s still a really good film. Don’t take my word for it though, find out for yourself!
Next: Cocktail (1988)
INSIDE THE ACTORS CHEWDIO with Tom Cruise