Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Hustler

Based on the novel by Walter Tevis, The Hustler is the story about a small-time pool hustler who wants to prove himself to be the best pool player in the U.S. as he goes after a legendary pool player. Directed by Robert Rossen and screenplay by Rossen and Sidney Carroll, the film explores a man’s desire to be the best at any cost as he would hustle his way into being the best as the character of “Fast Eddie” Felson is played by Paul Newman. Also starring Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, and Jackie Gleason as Minnesota Fats. The Hustler is a chilling yet captivating film from Robert Rossen.

The film is an exploration into the world of pool-hustling as a young hustler named “Fast Eddie” Felson wants to become the best and dethrone the king of pool hustling in Minnesota Fats. The two would play a 25-hour marathon where Felson had Fats beaten but ends up losing more than just money as he drowns his sorrows with an alcoholic writer whom he would move in with. Just as opportunity comes in to get himself back up, more setbacks would emerge as it would drive Felson to be more determined to be the best and beat Fats once and for all but with a heavy price. It’s a film that plays into a man who arrives rich and eager to be the best but for all of his talent, he lacks character and to know when to quit.

The film’s screenplay by Robert Rossen and Sidney Carroll create a script that takes great use with its structure as the first act is about the Felson and Fats’ game while the second act is about Felson dealing with his loss and trying to get himself back up. The third act is about him taking an opportunity that would later cost him more than money as it would involve him working with a seedy gambler in Bert Gordon (George C. Scott). Yet, the one person that Felson would bring into his life is Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie) as she is this writer trying to make it as she is in need of help as does Eddie where the two are drawn together by their troubles. When Felson takes her for the ride to see if he can score some money, things become troubling where the film’s dialogue definitely becomes very powerful into the troubles that Felson would deal with.

Rossen’s direction is quite engaging for the way he explores the world of pool-hustling as it’s a world where hustling is the key to survival. Much of the direction is quite intimate in the way Rossen presents the scenes of men playing pool where it’s a game of wit and skill. The camera is always gazing down at the pool table where it’s a world that is very unique where smoke is also a key proponent to the atmosphere of the pool hall. In the non-pool scenes, Rossen does maintain that intimacy in the relationship between Eddie and Sarah where some of the compositions in the way Rossen places the actors in a frame is very unique. Even as the characters in the background add some importance as it plays to the drama of the film where the film’s third act would become more dramatic as it plays to the way Felson leads his life and what is important to him. Overall, Rossen crafts a very mesmerizing and intelligent film about the world of pool-hustling.

Cinematographer Eugene Schufftan does fantastic work with the film‘s black-and-white photography from the way smoke is captured in the pool halls to the shadows and shading for some of its interior and exterior scenes. Editor Dede Allen does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish use of dissolves for the pool montages as well as some very seamless cutting techniques to play into the drama of the film. Production designer Harry Horner and set decorator Gene Callahan do excellent work with the look of the pool halls as well as the hotel suite Eddie and Sarah stay at with Bert in the film’s third act.

Costume designer Ruth Morley does nice work with the costumes from the suit that Fats wears to the clothes that Sarah wears. Sound editors Edward Beyer and Jack Fitzstephens do superb work with the sound to play into the atmosphere of the pool hall as well as the party that Eddie, Sarah, and Bert go to. The film’s music by Kenyon Hopkins is just great for its jazz-based score to play into the atmosphere of the pool hall while it also includes some somber moments for the film’s melodramatic scenes.

The film’s cast includes a cameo appearance from Jake LaMotta as a bartender as well as notable small roles from Murray Hamilton as the rich hustler Findley and Myron McCormick as Eddie’s partner Charlie. George C. Scott is excellent as the very smarmy yet smart gambler Bert Gordon as man who tells Eddie that he’s a born loser as he’s willing to make money off of him any way he cans. Jackie Gleason is great as Minnesota Fats as a very skilled pool player who knows how to endure marathons as he welcomes Eddie’s challenge as Gleason has this very low-key subtlety to his performance that makes him so complex.

Piper Laurie is amazing as Sarah Packard as this alcoholic writer who falls for Eddie as she deals with his willingness to hustle as she wonders if she’s being hustled. Finally, there’s Paul Newman in a tremendous performance as “Fast Eddie” Felson as this very skilled hustler who has the tools to be a great player but his arrogance would become his downfall as it’s a performance that has Newman display a lot of emotional weight and complexity to his character as it’s one of his best.

The Hustler is a remarkable film from Robert Rossen that features an iconic performance from Paul Newman. Along with a strong supporting cast, a cool music score, and some amazing technical work, it’s a film that isn’t just a compelling piece into the world of pool-hustling but also in how people risk their lives in the game of life. In the end, The Hustler is an incredible film from Robert Rossen.

Related: The Color of Money

© thevoid99 2014


Anonymous said...

I didn't love this, but ALL of the performances were top fucking notch! It's also breathtaking, visually. Nice writeup.

thevoid99 said...

I finally saw it on Saturday as it's definitely a great film as it now will force me to re-watch The Color of Money.

ruth said...

I'd watch this just for Paul Newman. I'd never thought a movie about pool playing could be so fascinating, clearly it could when it's done well :)

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-That's why you need Paul Newman in a movie about pool. Even if it's directed by Scorsese for the sequel.

Dell said...

Newman is just plain fantastic in this movie. Gleason and Laurie are just as good. Great review!

thevoid99 said...

@Wendell Otttley-Thanks. I'm glad someone mentioned Gleason and Laurie as they were great in that film.

Unknown said...

Great film! Whenever I watch it, I always think that Rossen would've been perfect to adapt Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD. THE HUSTLER really captures the mood and vibe of Kerouac's Beat Generation novels.

One of Paul Newman's all-time great performances. He's not afraid to be unsympathetic and play flawed characters (see HUD), which is one of the reasons why I love watching him act.

thevoid99 said...

@J.D. Lafrance-It's one of my favorite Newman performances so far as I'm eager to re-watch The Color of Money and hopefully see his other work.