The Hustler has always stood out as not just a great movie about the con game, but as a great movie, period. Paul Newman's study of a pool hustler who goes through the highest highs and the lowest lows is so dazzling that an hour will go by before you look at the clock and realize... I'm watching a movie about pool.
Of course, it's not really a movie about pool. It's a movie about the human condition, with Newman taking center stage as a man chased by invisible demons and his obsession with the big fish that's always just out of reach.
In this case, the big fish is Minnesota Fats* (played by the stellar Jackie Gleason in a rare, extremely serious role), a legendary pool player with whom Fast Eddie Felson (Newman) has had a long-running obsession. As the film opens, Eddie finally lands a game with Fats -- winning $18,000 in the process, only to lose it all after a grueling 25-hour session. He ends up destitute, falling in with an alcoholic girl (Piper Laurie) he picks up at a train station, and trying to hustle a stake in local pool halls in order to get a rematch with Fats. Eventually he goes on the road again with the aid of a wealthy gambler (George C. Scott, also fantastic), but you can't help but think Eddie's setting himself up for just another failure... one way or another.
The overwhelming sense of dread makes The Hustler one of the most existential movies ever, mainly because it just rings so true. Newman imbues Eddie with the sense that he really is a loser, albeit a loser with amazing skill. It's no wonder they got him back for the sequel The Color of Money, some 25 years later. The photography, gritty black and white captured with a clever choice of camera angles, is exquisite. The supporting cast -- particularly Gleason, Scott, and Myron McCormick as Eddie's early accomplice -- are stellar. While the love story (as it were) is somewhat less successful than the rest of the film, The Hustler is an astonishing achievement.
The Hustler, finally released on DVD, makes for an excellent addition ot any film library. In addition to a beautifully restored print, Paul Newman and various others provide commentary. There's also an original documentary and a cool picture-in-picture commentary feature that shows how you make all those crazy trick shots. It's a must-see before you hit the pool hall.
*The story of Minnesota Fats is interesting on its own. The movie character was based on a real pool shark named Rudolf Wanderone, who went by New York Fats at the time. After the movie's success, Wanderone started going by Minnesota Fats, only then becoming a real celebrity. He died a few years back, owing his fame to The Hustler.
Run time: 134 mins
In Theaters: Monday 25th September 1961
Distributed by: Fox
Production compaines: 20th Century Fox, Rossen Films
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 39 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 8.1 / 10
Director: Robert Rossen
Producer: Robert Rossen
Starring: Paul Newman as Eddie Felson, Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats, Piper Laurie as Sarah Packard, George C. Scott as Bert Gordon, Myron McCormick as Charlie Burns, Murray Hamilton as Findley, Michael Constantine as Big John, Gordon B. Clarke as Cashier
As with his Formula One documentary Senna, filmmaker Asaf Kapadia cleverly uses archival footage to...
This declining franchise really needed a jolt to the head, but the producers disappointingly opt...
Resisting the temptation to capitalise on the camp value of these characters, Channing Tatum and...
Wacky enough to make us smile but never laugh out loud, this screwball comedy harks...
A relentless onslaught of violent action, this movie is notable mainly because there's a woman...
First-time feature filmmaker John Maclean takes a strikingly original approach to the Western, creating a...
Despite this being a film about Sherlock Holmes, the fact that it's not much of...
Both shameless and shamelessly entertaining, this relentlessly boyish movie carries on exactly as the TV...