Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie
Director: Robert Rossen
One of Paul Newman’s most loved films, The Hustler is about Fast Eddie, a pool shark who trawls the bars and pool halls to make a buck hustling games. When he falls in with a mentor who tries to teach him how to be a real game player, to make real money, he’s taken in, but he finds that his methods of winning come at a big price. Being taught to be calm and keep his cool, he is actually expected to shut out everything and everyone but the game.
Although it’s about a sport, it’s not a sports movie, it’s all kind of a metaphor for life and the games we play, trying to make it to the big time. Trying to make it at all. Piper Laurie as Eddie’s alcoholic girlfriend pays a big price for this. A woman who is clearly not stable, her life spirals out of control as Eddie breaks her heart and his mentor treats her badly. She too, is just trying to make it, in her own way.
It’s a dark film, black and white, with smokey bars and pool hall landscapes, and no real place that’s a home for any of the characters. There’s little warmth and everything is a gamble, everything is a hustle, from relationships to business partnerships. It’s not way to really live a life, and suggests that there really is no way to do more than survive, to make it big is beyond the little guy.
Personally, and this might make me unpopular, but I didn’t really like this film. I loved Paul Newman, he’s always been a fine performer. But I found the whole thing a bit dull. I liked that it was trying to say something about humanity and about life, and I have no objection to films that are cynical, but at the same time, it felt long to me and a little self-indulgent. I’m not sure that I felt like a guy trying to make a living playing pool and learning to care about nothing but making money was really a clever metaphor. But that’s only personal opinion, it’s certainly not a bad film, and I can see why people have loved this one since the 60’s.
See It If: you’ve ever felt like the little guy trying to make it in a cruel world… or if you like Paul Newman, he turns in a fine performance here.