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USA 1986
Directed by
Martin Scorsese
119 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Color Of Money

You’d be forgiven for thinking that if any director could do justice to a sequel to Robert Rossen’s 1961 classic it would be Martin Scorsese but The Color of Money stands to The Hustler as ‘The Da Vinci Code’ stands to The Good Book. Not only does Scorsese not try to emulate the spare realist style of the black and white original he doesn’t bring his trade-mark cinematic flair to the next generation story of ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson.

Paul Newman is back as Eddie, now retired from playing pool and making a tidy living selling no-name liquor. One day a young hot-shot player Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) walks into the bar that Eddie frequents and the old dog sees in him a suitable heir. But he doesn’t count on the arrogance of modern youth and once they hit the road accompanied by Vincent's girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) the two men are constantly at loggerheads, eventually falling out.  

If Scorsese’s direction is remarkably unremarkable, partly due to Michael Ballhaus's admittedly appropriate '70s low budget-style cinematography, Richard Price’s script suffers from a lack of well-developed characters and dramatic cohesion. Yes Newman is back but he no longer has that defining boyish twinkle that made him a huge star in the ‘50s and ‘60s and made Fast Eddie such a charmer.  Twenty-five years down the track and Eddie’s now closer to George C. Scott’s Bert Gordon in the original, a man whose world view has been tempered by a life-time of hustling, This could have led to something interesting as with the wisdom of hindsight Eddie tries to take Vincent to the big time but instead about half-way through the story the two bust-up and Eddie starts playing solo. Why he does so, other than to lead to a table show-down between the two, is not apparent.

In one sense the split takes us to the most effective part of the film, on the one hand relieving us of Cruise’s manic antics (his interpretation of what Eddie calls “flakiness”), on the other leaving us with the eminently watchable Newman and Fast Eddie, the only character, bar  Eddie’s girlfriend,(Helen Shaver) as of any credible depth. Mastrantonio is not trashy enough for her part let alone having none of the pathos of Piper Laurie’s character and Forest Whitaker as a hustler who bests Eddie is no Jackie Gleason. Rather both are dutiful types (she was much better suited to her 1983 screen debut as Tony Montana's "nice girl' sister in Scarface). The film’s non-resolving ending, which seems like it is intended to lead to its own sequel, is particularly ill-judged.

Had this film not been a sequel to a gilt-edged classic and had it not been directed by Scorsese it may not have been any better but at least the sense of disappointment wouldn’t have been so acute.

FYI: Iggy Pop makes a brief non-musical appearance as one of Vincent’s victims. Newman won the Best Actor that year but more in recognition of a career that had earned him eight nominations but no win




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