Along with the excellent and often criminally ignored After Hours, this informal sequel to Paul Newman’s 1961 classic, The Hustler, sits firmly atop the (albeit small) pile of overlooked and underrated Martin Scorsese pictures. Both occurred during a ten-year period between Raging Bull and Goodfellas where Marty did some of his most liberated and penetrating work, clearly had a ball doing so, and nobody seemed to notice. It's a crying shame that the sheer scope of his Oscar-winning masterpieces somehow squeezed respectability from some of his less grand scale output and relegated others still to the status of minor Scorsese (as if such a thing exists). In actuality The Color of Money is a smart, savvy, introspective musing on human nature and how, much as we might try to deny them, we’re all at the mercy of our instincts.

Veteran pool hustler ‘Fast Eddie’ Felson, a role reprised once again by Newman, decides to operate as a stake man for maverick upstart, Vincent, played by Cruise. Quickly the two men realize that they operate very differently and their ultimate goals are worlds apart. Fast Eddie wants to play it smart, raise the stakes slowly by luring in the sucker in a game of pool possum, making a big score at the end. Vincent is arrogant, supremely talented, and unable to control his impulses and reign himself in as he blows hustle after hustle with his reckless need to beat a guy and beat him hard.

But this is not just a repeat value sports movie trading on the reputation of an earlier classic (this is Scorsese remember). Rather, this is a movie about the complexity and the dynamics of human relationships. Through Eddie, Vincent learns the discipline to hustle the big marks, and through Vincent, Eddie rediscovers his hunger, his vitality, and a love for the game that he thought he had drank away long ago.

On the surface it might seem like the old straight-up formula tale of a younger man and an older man clashing together, each ultimately learning a valuable lesson from the other. But this familiar set-up takes on a slick and fluid sophistication in Scorsese’s hands, his fastidious direction and the seamless editing hitting the requisite table scenes with a smack shot of adrenaline. Away from the table it's a slow moving character study about how everyone inevitably uses everyone else to get what they need. As Vincent’s street-smarts squeeze, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio bridges the gap between the men as someone who knows exactly what Eddie is about, but who realizes that both she and Vincent need him, at least for now.

With Newman scooping an Academy Award for his dazzling portrayal of the washed-up has-been, whose best days at the table may be behind him but still has it all upstairs where it counts, it’s easy to overlook Tom Cruise, every bit Newman’s match. The Cruiser was born to play Vincent, with his cocky swagger, ridiculous grin, and sexy glint in the eye, oozing charisma and an irresistible, infectious spunk with every twirl of the cue. But it's still Newman who makes the film with his effortlessly cool portrayal of a man refusing to succumb to age and its implied limitations quietly, giving the over-the hill-hustler plenty of bite and snarl.

Having a healthy passion for the game of pool will doubtless increase your enjoyment here, and the table sequences have plenty of pizzazz. But between Newman, Cruise, Scorsese and an excellent support role from ‘where-the-hell-did-she-go-Mastrantonio,’ The Color of Money remains classy, stylish, and is totally accessible to anyone.


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