10 April 2010 | secondtake
A good ride, colorful shooting (camera and pool), but a bit thin overall, except Newman.
The Color of Money (1986)
The reputation of this films rides partly on its director, a mainstream Martin Scorsese, and on the previous film it bounces off of (and makes vague reference to), The Hustler. Key to both films is the astonishing Paul Newman, who holds his end of the stick and then some. The rest of the cast is purely in canned and competent support roles, or in semi-star roles by two young actors with some screen presence but no great subtle skill to match Newman's.
I'm speaking not only of Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio, who is forced to play the slightly tough, slightly sexy, generally submissive girlfriend, but also of Tom Cruise, who is brilliant at being "flakey" partly because he is in real life, from all accounts. You give Scorsese credit here for using the young actor in a role that matches his natural persona, in contrast to others, including Spielberg, who seem to make more of the actor than there is, and a certain falseness gets in the way. But this film uses the awkwardness and naive, boyish qualities of Cruise as a sudden pool shark really well.
What holds it all back? I think basically plot. I mean, it's fun to see the big hustle at play, and to get stung once or twice when things aren't what they seem. But we sort of know going in that that's the general plan, and then it happens. And it takes a long time happening...there are no (no) complications here, beyond pool and hustling. The romances, for what they are worth, a completely thin, and didn't have to be. The settings, all these great (great) poolhalls and small town joints are terrific, populated a little too perfectly by locals of all different stripes. The camera-work makes some fairly cinema verite footage make sense in the scenes, but not with either edge or lyricism.
This all sounds a little like I'm working hard to point out the flaws, and I must go back to where I started about Newman, and the basic strength of the aging pool player facing a change in his personal scenery. It's a canned affair overall. Well done, sure, but without the richness of the best of Scorsese's work, or the best of Hollywood, for that matter, including the preceding The Hustler, which you might see in a pairing with this one.