Thursday, July 24, 2014

Retro Review: The Hustler (1961)

                                               'The Hustler' Really Hits The Eight Ball
          I remember my cousin once told me that a film that she considers her favorite is one that makes her want to do something that the characters did in the film. For example, Cool Runnings made her want to go out and bobsled, just like how after watching The Hustler, I want to go out and play Pool. I feel that in maybe a few years to come, The Hustler will become a new favorite of mine.
             The Hustler follows the story of a pool hustler named "Fast Eddie" Felson (Paul Newman) who while playing a game of pool with a legend named "Minnesota Fats" (Jackie Gleason), gets carried away and eventually loses almost all of his stake money. Eddie then looks to get into a rematch with Fats in order to regain his confidence while he is involved with an alcoholic woman named Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie).

         One thing that actually really surprised me was how the film focused a little less on the actual pool matches and more on the whole context of "winning" and "losing". Whenever Eddie is being told that he is a loser, that is what drives him to be more competitive and at times, his pride ends up being his downfall. I feel that the film uses the whole concept of pool hustling to touch on very human themes. In particular, how we hate to be told we are losers. For some people, like Eddie, being called a loser is what ironically drives them to try and top themselves or try and succeed. In some cases, it doesn't always work out. Plus, the film also has a love story added to it and I thought it was pretty neat since it allows the film to appeal to a wider audience. I also loved the chemistry between Paul Newman and Piper Laurie, which brings me to my next point.

       Paul Newman is nothing short of brilliant and like his other films I've seen him in, he is able to bring emotional gravitas into his performance despite being quite a looker. But while he was amazing, I thought it was Piper Laurie that stole the film. She is so tender yet so fiery as Eddie's girlfriend and confidante. Some of you may know her as the crazy Margaret White in the original Carrie, but this is quite a departure. I also thought the supporting cast, that included George C. Scott as Eddie's sleazy manager Burt and Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, were also superb as well. Plus, the direction by Robert Rossen was brilliant. I liked how during the pool scenes, he doesn't add any music to elevate the scenes or anything along those lines. He just films the actors playing pool and dissolves to the time changing on the clock or the result of each game. Like I said, the film focuses a bit more on the context of winning and losing rather than the actual game of pool itself.


       Overall, The Hustler is an entertaining yet humanistic drama about the loser in all of us. It has brilliant performances from the cast, especially from Newman and Laurie, and is an essential classic that I would highly suggest that you put on your watch list, especially if you like Newman. After watching this film, it honestly makes me want to go out and play a game of Pool.

Grade: A+