Paul Newman scores as pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson, who tours the country hustling games — even challenging reigning champion Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) — in this brooding drama that explores the synergies between good and evil, love and desperation. The film won a pair of Oscars for its cinematography and art direction, while Newman and Gleason both earned Academy Award nominations for their performances. Piper Laurie co-stars.
Rating: 9 out of 10
This incredibly solid modern classic starring Paul Newman as “Fast” Eddie Felson is a cautionary tale about what it means to win and lose but fundamentally is about the obstacles that can get in our way to either winning or losing. Billiards stands as the context for that tale. Baseball, basketball and even soccer have been done to death in the movies, but billiards is very interesting context. Newman’s “Fast” Eddie is a hard, charming and very fallible hustler. That realism is a a spark that propels this drama froward. He loves Pool and he wants to win at any cost but the film is about so much more than pool. It is an elaborate character study.
Jackie Gleason was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Minnesota Fats, the reigning king on the billiard circuit. He is the ultimate mark for “Fast” Eddie. He and Newman (also nominated for an Oscar) have such a tangible and charismatic chemistry and they are just amazing to watch. George C. Scott (who resembles a young Roy Scheider) is the cold, hard edged manager of “The Fat Man” that sees right through Fast Eddie’s hustling techniques. This pool game goes on for roughly 35 minutes and it is amazing to watch the nuances that each actor brings forth.
The movie is about people first and foremost and even Piper Laurie’s method-confident portrayal does not bog down this film down but at times the running length does. “The Hustler” glamorizes (or de-glamorizes depending on your point of view) the backdrops of this hustling universe with such defined accuracy. There are run down pool halls, unkempt bus terminals and shabby bars that are almost characters in themselves but it’s the one-two knockout punch of Newman and Gleason that make this classic drama unforgettable. “The Hustler” won Oscars for it’s incredible art direction and cinematography. Martin Scorcese eventually went on to direct the sequel “The Color of Money.”