Flicks: The Hustler

February 2nd, 2007
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Fast Eddie Felson’s entire reason for being was to be the best pool hustler in the country. He’s a great, young warrior who’s come to battle the king for his crown. Minnesota Fats is the old guard and Eddie has to take him down to prove that he’s the best. He tries and fails only to come back better than before. But the ‘character’-building events as he climbs his way back to the top give him a tragic perspective of the game he’s playing. Neither he nor Fats will ever be the king. They will only ever be gladiators fighting to get someone else rich.


Young Paul Newman. He’s cocky, a smart-ass. He’s youth and arrogance personified. In Cool Hand Luke he wouldn’t be broken. In The Hustler he crumbles into a thousand pieces. He crashes and burns and all that arrogance collapses into confused desperation. Eddie spirals down a hole of liquor and obsession. His only goal is winning again. All he wants is to regain the naïve arrogance he once had. And he’s willing to do anything, give up anything to get it back.
Jackie Gleason is the slick Minnesota Fats. I had only ever seen him in the Honeymooners. His cool nonchalance was a shock. With very few lines, he managed to convey so much with his demeanor and expressions. Gleason projected calm in contrast to Newman’s eagerness. And in the end, with only “y’better pay him Eddie,” and a down-turned eye, he gives it all away. The illusion is dropped and we see who the master is.
George C. Scott played Scrooge the first time I saw him. He was much older then. But, seemingly he’s always a bastard. He does it very well. Bert Gordon is subdued, there’s no wild-eyed screaming like in Dr. Strangelove. There’s just a cynical understanding of the way of things. Bert judges people by how useful they may be to him.
Piper Laurie plays Sarah, the love interest of the story. Every character in this story is flawed. No one is perfect. Everyone from the hustlers to the moneymen to the marks is flawed to the bone, desperately deluding themselves about their lives and the world around them. Sarah is the only one who can see clearly and it drives her mad.
My intent in this project isn’t to summarize or review the movies. I’m only writing my reactions. So it’s interesting that the thing that what sticks with me are the characters. Brought to life so wonderfully and tragically by this incredible cast, I’m blown away by it all. There’s nothing new about a story full of bad people. Modern storytelling is full of flawed heroes, heroines, villains and supporting characters. Dysfunction is the norm. I don’t know if we’d know what to do with a story about well-adjusted people anymore. Given that, you’d think a movie like this from so long ago would be full of modern-day clichés. I loved it though. I guess I have to add The Color Of Money to the list.
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