Paul Newman reprised his role of Eddie Felson from "The Hustler" (1961), on all short lists of great movies, to star in "The Color of Money", a worthy sequel in the way "Rocky II" was to "Rocky" -- not a great movie, but very good.
Eddie, advancing in years, has apparently left the hustling circuit for a more respectable job as a liquor wholesalesman. On his route, he encounters a brash, obnoxious pool shark named Vincent (Tom Cruise) and his girlfriend (Mary Mastrantonio). Vincent has the talent, but not the brains or knowledge, to be another great hustler, so Eddie, his desire for the circuit reignited, offers to stake Vincent and teach him the ropes, in exchange for a substantial piece of the winnings. At first, Vincent's ego and obnoxiousness threaten his development, but he soon learns all of Eddie's tricks -- and a few of his own. By the time of the big tournament at the end of the movie, Eddie and Vince have split ways -- and find themselves on a collision course.
I just realized that "The Color of Money" is my favorite Tom Cruise movie, but not my favorite Paul Newman movie (which could well be "The Hustler"). I re-viewed this movie recently after a long discussion with some friends about the difference between a movie star and an actor, and the few living legends that are both (besides Newman, I'd include Jack Nicholson and Robert de Niro). As always, Newman, even with such a huge public persona, disappears into the role of the middle-aged grifter, heartbroken how far his game has fallen in the days since he left the pool hall circuit. But he also makes the other performers around him shine. Cruise's trademark cockiness shines through in Vincent. Besides Mastrantonio, one of my favorite actresses Helen Shaver turns in a nice performance as Eddie's girlfriend, and Forest Whitaker first appeared on my radar in his short time on screen.
The other star of the movie is the game. While Scorsese didn't make his movie into the character study of "The Hustler", he uses the pool tables and balls as a medium for many artistic scenes. If you are someone who enjoys looking at beautiful movies, you won't be disappointed. And there might even be some real pool players -- you never know...
The story is good, not great. "The Color of Money" is not cut from the same felt as "The Hustler", and does not try to be. It is a movie about pool, not a character study. I don't think I would be up to repeated viewings as frequent as "The Hustler", but it's a fine way to spend an evening watching Newman and Cruise shoot pool.
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