[box cover]

The Color of Money

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Starring Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Written by Richard Price, from the novel by William Tevis
Directed by Martin Scorsese

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This sequel to Robert Rossen's classic 1961 pool hall drama The Hustler was met with great disdain by film snobs upon its 1986 release. Reacting suspiciously to the odd union of Disney's Touchstone Studios and brilliant maverick director Martin Scorsese, they feared that the raw visionary behind Taxi Driver and Raging Bull had "sold out" to The Man. It didn't help that "It-boy" Tom Cruise, who vaulted to superstar-status a few months earlier with the release of Top Gun, played a key role in the film and its marketing.

A superficial look at this excellent character study would support those fears: subdued is Scorsese's affinity for dangerous characters and his kinetic stylistics are used sparingly. It doesn't feel like a Scorsese picture — but for the unaffected observer, the master's same energy and fluid technique is still there, only quieter and used for different effect.

Paul Newman reprises his role as Fast Eddie Felson, once a brash, impetuous, cynical young pool shark who gave up hustling 25 years ago when he ran afoul of a manipulative raconteur. Now older, wiser, and oozing class, Eddie's made a killing selling wholesale liquor, hustling no-name brands as top labels but always trading in excellence.

Then he meets Vincent (Cruise), an incredible dork with a sledgehammer break and unbeatable game of nine-ball. He reminds Eddie of his young foolish self, only too innocent to hustle. The possibilities Eddie sees in Vincent makes him itch again for the life of the traveling hustler. He proposes to stake Vincent and his tough, sharp girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), for a three week road trip during which he'll teach them both the art of the hustle for a piece of the action. Vincent makes a tougher student than Eddie expected, struggling against his pride just as young Eddie once did.

Newman won a long-overdue Oscar for his tough, understated performance as an aging man faced with an image of himself as a young man and finally facing his long-buried demons. Cruise is dynamite in a rare comic, self-effacing role as clueless Vincent, complete with Frankie Avalon hair. Mastrantonio threatened to break through as a serious new actress, tackling Richard Price's fine machismo-ridden script with grace and composure (a welcomed change from the melodramatic simpering of Piper Laurie in The Hustler).

Scorsese keeps tight control over every frame, action, and transition, building an electrically charged chemistry between his fine performers and their inner-uncertainties. He saves his show-off ingenuity for the pool scenes, with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus putting the camera onto the table and into the game and making nine-ball look like the most exciting game in the world.

Excellent supporting performances by John Turturro and Helen Shaver and the solid bar-blues song score. Watch this one early, because you're going to want to spend all night in the nearest pool hall as soon as it's done.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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