US Release Date: 10-17-1986
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
- Paul Newman, as
- Fast Eddie Felson
- Tom Cruise, as
- Vincent Lauria
- Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, as
- Helen Shaver, as
- John Turturro, as
- Bill Cobbs, as
- Robert Agins, as
- Forest Whitaker, as
- Iggy Pop as
- Skinny Player on Road
Paul Newman in The Color of Money.
The Color of Money is remembered most as the movie that finally won Paul Newman an Academy Award. His win has often been held up as an example of a career win, where the Academy rewarded an actor for a lifetime's body of work rather than for one specific performance. However, to suggest that is the only reason Newman won for reprising the role of Eddie Felson is to belittle a nuanced performance by a seasoned old pro.
Although technically this is a sequel to 1961's The Hustler, for which Newman received the 2nd of his 9 Oscar nominations, it isn't really necessary to have seen that earlier film. If you have seen it, you may pick up some added nuances to Eddie's character, but at the same time you'll probably be disappointed that you don't learn more details about the intervening years between films. No mention is made of the characters played by Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason or George C. Scott in The Hustler. Director Martin Scorsese has said that he wasn't interested in making a literal sequel.
It was interesting to rewatch this movie 26 years after its release. I was just 17 when I first saw it and therefore related more to Tom Cruise's character, Vince, then I did to Newman's Fast Eddie. Now, with plenty of miles behind me I was able to see it more properly from Eddie's perspective. Without that life experience, I was unable to fully appreciate Newman's performance in 1986.
Eddie is a man in late middle age who has been successful in life, but not by doing what he loves. As Marcel Proust said, "We always end up doing the thing we are second best at." He sells liquor for a living and has made decent money at it. His passion is pool, only he let that passion die. It is reawakened when he meets young Vince, who is loaded with talent, but lacks discipline. Eddie takes him under his wing, guiding him with difficulty into the world of professional pool. Along the way, Eddie realizes that being the mentor isn't enough for him. He wants back into the life he left behind all those years ago. He's reminded that, "Money won is twice as sweet as money earned."
There are some serious themes running through the movie, but wisely the script and Scorsese keep the story moving quickly and lightly, providing some comic relief, mainly in the form of Vince's stupidity. It's a far cry from the darker, much gloomier The Hustler. The games of 9-ball are filmed well and where today they would probably have all been done with CGI, here the balls are really being shot and mostly by the actors themselves.
The real reason to watch this movie is to see Newman's performance. As I said, his Oscar has often been cited as a career win, but that doesn't mean he didn't deserve it for this movie. Pundits hold this role up to Cool Hand Luke or any of his many other great roles and say, this one wasn't as good. That may be true, but he wasn't competing against his earlier work. He was competing against Dexter Gordon for Round Midnight, William Hurt for Children of a Lesser God, Bob Hoskins for Mona Lisa, and James Woods for Salvador. Some big names apart from Gordon, but did they deserve the win more than Newman? That's the question to ask, not whether or not Newman should have won for this movie or for an earlier film.
Perhaps it's because the movie overall isn't a classic that Newman's win is downplayed. It's a decent movie and a highly enjoyable one, but Newman, Scorsese and Cruise have all made better. That doesn't however, negate the performance by Newman. He provides plenty of heart as the aging Eddie, and is reason enough to rewatch it.
Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in The Color of Money.
As Scott wrote, the script only hints at what the intervening years wrought for Fast Eddie Felson. What is clear is that somewhere along the way he lost his stomach for the grind of pool house competition. After meeting Vince he decides to stake him and they go on the road together along with Vince's girlfriend, much like George C. Scott's character did for Newman and Piper Laurie in The Hustler.
Eddie's career, it seems, has come full circle, from young hotshot to aging mentor of another up and comer. Until, of course, the urge to return to competitive play becomes too strong to resist. All of which leads to the satisfying conclusion. Along the way we are treated to several rousing games of 9-ball with both Newman and Cruise showing off their considerable skills with a pool cue.
Newman's performance is certainly Oscar caliber. He was 61 at the time and this was probably his last great role, although he would continue making movies for another 15 years or so. He is still the same cool guy, although his declining physical state has begun to mess with his confidence. In one scene he is shown getting his eyes checked after losing to a hustler played by a young Forest Whitaker.
Another moment that stands out is when Eddie is taking Vince and Carmen around to his old pool haunts. As they climb the stairs to one place, Eddie stops and excitedly mentions that he has goosebumps. Once they get to the top of the stairs he is disappointed to find the old pool hall is now a furniture warehouse.
A cocky 23 year old Tom Cruise has no trouble playing the cocky 23 year old pool shark Vince. His New Jersey background comes out in the way Vince talks, dresses and struts around pool tables. He is far flashier than Eddie ever was. Newman and Cruise have several good scenes together. One takes place in a car where Eddie gives Vince some advice, “You gotta have two things to win. You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls. Now, you got too much of one and not enough of the other.” Vince just grins that shit eating grin of his and nods his head. Clearly taking these words as a compliment and not as they were actually meant.
The Color of Money has an iconic director and two equally iconic male stars. It's a sports as metaphor for life movie. It's about second chances and facing your fears as you get older. Fast Eddie realizes it's not too late to recapture his dreams of attaining pool hall greatness.
I'm glad Scorsese chose to end it on a positive note rather than a tragic one. Oh and the memorable soundtrack includes such hits as Phil Collins' "One More Night", "Werewolves of London" by Warren Zevon and Charlie Parker's "I'll Remember April". If, like Scott and I, you haven't seen this movie since it came out in 1986, or if you've never seen it, it's definitely worth checking out.
Tom Cruise in The Color of Money
Patrick wrote that Tom Cruise and Paul Newman share some great scenes and I agree. I liked when Eddie first has dinner with Vince and Carmen. Eddie makes it clear to them who he is and we see just how slick he can be. He makes them a bet he knows he will win.
Carmen catches on while Vince is all balls and little brains. He is your typical young healthy male. That is to say, he needs an outlet for all of his testosterone. Notice how obnoxious he is in the pool hall swinging the stick around like a 12 year old pretending to be a Power Ranger.
Eddie plays Vince like the true hustler he is. He lies to him. He plants some seeds of doubt. Eddie tells Vince exactly what he needs to, to get him to come with him on the road. He knows that Carmen is the key, and he exploits their relationship to his end.
I agree with Scott that Newman’s performance is wonderfully subtle. Eddie deals with everyone around him in his own manner. That is to say, he lies, misleads or keeps whatever secrets he wants to get his way. This includes his girlfriend whom he upsets by hitting the road with Vince and Carmen.
Eddie is not necessarily the nicest guy around and his methods of teaching Vince can be harsh. He lets Vince take a bit of a beating to enforce a lesson. Eddie is not the most considerate person around but as played by the immensely charming Paul Newman, we still like him.
Eddie comments more than once that trying to teach Vince and dealing with Carmen’s flirtations are like taking care of children. After Vince has a hissy fit, Eddie says, “Vincent, get in the car, this is embarrassing. You're acting like some girl who got felt up at the drive-in.” He says to Carmen after she displays her assets in front of Eddie, “I'm not your daddy, I'm not your boyfriend, so don't be playing games with me. I'm your partner.”
Cruise does a great job as the immature Vince. Eddie spends a considerable amount of time trying to get Vince to see the big picture. However, Eddie’s inexperience and eagerness to win get in the way. They are the perfect example of youthful energy versus aged wisdom.
Vince is likewise not someone who is easy to root for. He is so full of himself that I sometimes wanted to see him lose just for humility sake. As confident as he is about his pool game he is insecure about his relationship with Carmen. Although Newman got all the acting kudos for this film, Cruise did some decent acting here as a young man who is not nearly as in control of his life as he thinks.
My favorite scene is when Eddie is upset after losing and Vince tries to pep talk him. The scene is tense as both men come to realize their own weaknesses. The one thing Eddie could always bounce back on was his name in the pool game community but he just got hustled. Vince, who had acted so independent up to this point, reveals just how much he was actually relying on Eddie.
I believe my brother Patrick once compared Newman’s and Cruise’s careers. Both have been noted for their looks but both have proven to have real acting chops. What's more, both have shown to have long notable acting careers.
The Color of Money contains well rounded characters that are flawed and occasionally sad. Their goal of fame and money is as superficial as any yet we grow fond of these two men bonded by a sport. I never really cared if either ever won or lost, but I liked watching them interact.
One theme of the film is Eddie passing a torch to Vince. The same can be said of Newman passing a torch to Cruise.
Photos © Copyright Touchstone Pictures (1986)