The Hustler Film Review
Directed by Robert Rossen
Written by Sidney Carroll
Released in 1961
An up and coming pool hustler called 'Fast Eddie Felson' (Newman) challenges 'Minnesota Ftas' (Gleason), the best in the country to a match. After losing Eddie, falls from grace and hits rock bottom. He then goes on a journey of self discovery to regain and better all of what he once had.
After working his way up the pool hustling echelon Eddie Felson arrives with his manager at Ames Billiard Hall intent on playing Minnesota Fats, the best in the country. The young and cocky Felson believes he is unbeatable and even the the best in country will stand no chance against his formidable talent. Felson stays with Fats in a marathon session that sees both players performing shot after incredible shot. During the game both Eddie and Fats drink, but Eddie suffers more and this is where Fats gains the advantage. Seeing his chance, Fats takes a break, cleans up and takes the exhausted Felson for all he has.
Managerless and left with only a few dollars, Eddie finds a flea bitten room and ends up finding alcohol where ever he can. In this instance the early stop is a Bus Station. Here he finds Sarah (Laurie) a fellow drinker. A relationship develops between the two as Eddie gets a release from the hustling world with this emancipated college girl. But the desire to hustle anyone and everyone is too great for Eddie even when his life seems to be taking a turn for the better. After playing a two bit hustler in a back street bar, Eddie finds himself on the end of a vicious beating and his thumbs are broken. Now unable to play, Eddie finds himself having to be cared for by Sarah. During this time he starts to understand that maybe he has been playing the game all wrong and that he has a self defeating attitude that she can help him to overcome.
When eventually Eddie recovers enough to play again, he is taken on by Bert Gordon, a ruthless gambler who sees Eddie as a cash cow and is willing to set games up for Eddie for a huge dividend. Gordon sees Sarah as a distraction and goes out of his way to turn the couple against each other. He sets up a big money game in Louisville and it is here after triumph and tragedy that Eddie finds himself.
Felson returns to Ames to play Fats again, this time instead of cockiness and raw talent, he plays Fats with self belief and the pain of a broken heart.
Robert Rossen invites us in to the seedy world of pool hustling and creates some amazing characters that are wonderfully acted. Sports films are always incredibly difficult to emulate as the actors are rarely talented in the sport that they are supposed to be expert in. But Newman and Gleason were actually very good pool players, this comes across in the film and enables Rosson to give us angles that show the actors actually playing. Ames Billiard Hall is a smoky, seedy pit, that delivers all the elements that we would expect of these environments. In every corner is a half soaked wannabe with a tipped hat and cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. The fantastic jazz riddled score adds to the authenticity of the time and compliments the pool playing scenes brilliantly.
Stellar performances from George C Scott as Gordon and Piper Laurie as Sarah push this film in to the realms of a classic. But Newman delivers a performance of massive depth and emotion. In every scene he pulls you in to the world of this tormented man, trying to find that one thing that will light his talent and push it to the next level. and when he eventually finds it in the most unexpected place and it is taken away from him, he realises how futile most of his previous exploits have been.