Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money
In Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money (1986), the sequel to The Hustler, we meet up with Fast Eddie Felsen (Paul Newman) 25 years after he walked away from the game he was so extraordinary at. Eddie is now a liquor salesman and he’s done well for himself, bringing the same attention to excellence to it as he did with pool. In the opening scene, his current girlfriend (Helen Shaver) tastes some of the whiskey he’s selling, it’s obvious they’re in love as they sit and talk at the bar.
In the pool room nearby, Eddie hears someone playing his old game. It’s a young kid with an incredible break, so he walks over and watches this young upstart play against another local guy he knows named Julian (John Turturro). The punk kid defeats Julian but asks him to play again for no money, just for the fun of it. Julian just looks at him like he’s crazy and leaves. The kid is Vincent (Tom Cruise) and Eddie can see he is very much like an updated version of his younger self, only Vincent is a real mook and doesn’t even know the talent he’s got going for him. Eddie converses with Vincent’s sexy girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) to find out where her head is at and who this kid is and that’s when Eddie has a light go off in his head. Eddie’s plan is to manipulate the naive Vincent into going on the road with him, becoming his stakehorse and showing him the ropes of being a professional pool hustler. This is where the real excitement of the film happens. Vincent is a great player but like Eddie was when he was young, he’s overly cocky but also a “huge flake” and this causes trouble between them. Meanwhile, Carmen is coming on to Eddie, but he makes it clear he wants their relationship to be business only. He says: “We got a racehorse here, You make him feel good and I teach him how to run”.
The three new friends hit the road together and Fast Eddie teaches Vincent how to be a successful pool shark. It’s a fast paced adventure dealing with the seedier side of life which takes them into some sketchy places and things don’t always go according to plan. One thing Vincent obviously doesn’t have is smarts, and his overly protective nature towards Carmen causes even more tension on the trip. Eddie does his best to keep cool as Vincent goes wild and uses his talents in flashy ways at the pool halls, something he’s not supposed to do. Being a good grifter is all about playing dumb and NOT giving yourself away.
One night, Fast Eddie is scammed by a young pool hustler (Forrest Whitaker) and this is where he realizes he’s finally lost “it”. He’s just an old man, another sucker in the crowd. He now knows he has to give that life up, so he passes the rest of the road stake to Vincent and Carmen. Eddie proceeds to dump them both, explaining that he’s shown them everything he knows and he’s done. This causes an angry split between the partners. When Eddie arrives at a big pool tournament in Atlantic City looking to give himself one last shot at glory, he runs into Vincent and Carmen and they leave their troubles behind. It’s time to play real pool and win it all. Will this be the triumphant return of the old Fast Eddie Felsen?
Throughout the film, Martin Scorsese uses his unique cinematic storytelling techniques to help enhance the otherwise straight forward story. The film is artistically heightened by his personalized visual flourishes and it completely rounds things out making it much better than it would be if it had been made by an average director for hire.
The music in the film was produced by Scorsese’s old housemate/pal Robbie Robertson (the ex-Band member who had previously been in Scorsese’s concert film masterpiece The Last Waltz, 1978). The score is filled with urban blues and rock featuring songs by Eric Clapton, BB King, Robert Palmer and Warren Zevon (Werewolves of London is played during one of the films most memorable sequences).
For The Color of Money Martin Scorsese brought his own cinematic vision and mixed it with a more mainstream studio project (a sequel no less). The result is a finely acted, masterfully crafted film classic. Note: Paul Newman went on to win an Oscar for his second performance as Fast Eddie!
Trivia: Look for a cameo by rocker Iggy Pop as a pool player who loses to Vincent.