“Fast” Eddie Felson is a small-time pool hustler with a lot of talent but a self-destructive attitude. His bravado causes him to challenge the legendary “Minnesota Fats” to a high-stakes match, but he loses in a heartbreaking marathon. Now broke and without his long-time manager, Felson faces an uphill battle to regain his confidence and his game. It isn’t until he hits rock bottom that he agrees to join up with ruthless and cutthroat manager Bert Gordon. Gordon agrees to take him on the road to learn the ropes. But Felson soon realizes that making it to the top could cost him his soul, and perhaps his girlfriend. Will he decide that this is too steep a price to pay in time to save himself?
An iconic classic and a contender for the best sports drama ever
There are some good sports films out there, drama or comedy, but few are as atmospherically made or as intelligently written with unforgettable performances as The Hustler. The whole film looks fabulous, with the photography not only looking beautiful and moody but adding so much to the gritty atmosphere, the pool scenes (especially the first one) beautifully shot. The set design is great as well. The jazzy music score is both intensely sleazy and emotionally sombre, like the photography adding so much to the mood. As said previously, few other sports drama are written as intelligently as The Hustler, the dialogue really provokes thought and has an almost poetic, searching quality and genuine meat, this is not skim-the-surface writing, this is meaty stuff that has an at times harrowing effect. A lot of it is quotable, who can forget Burt’s “you owe me MONEY”, George C. Scott’s delivery playing a huge part of its impact, without him the line could have been just ordinary. The same can be said for the story which gives the world of pool a grittiness and excitement, the pool scenes have intensity as does the almost scary conflict between Paul Newman and George C. Scott. This is ceaselessly compelling stuff with no sugar-coating, it’s not pleasant and can be downbeat but is done with such realism. The characters are far from black-and-white, for the types of characters they are they could have been easily, but flesh-and-blood complex characters especially Eddie and Sarah. The Hustler is brilliantly acted (all four leads giving among their best ever performances, a possible career-best for Laurie and Gleason), with Paul Newman giving one of his greatest and most balanced performances. And the supporting cast are just as unforgettable, with Piper Laurie at her most poignant and tortured, Jackie Gleason at his most restrained and most cool (remarkable for a performance that couldn’t be far different from his comedy roles) and especially George C. Scott at his sleaziest and most chilling. All in all, a sports drama that is hugely deserving of its iconic classic status, one of the best of the genre.
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