Taking Pot Luck
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was on in cinemas in the UK and US in November and is now on Netflix internationally. So Tripwire set its editor-in-chief Joel Meadows and senior editor Andrew Colman the mammoth task of watching and reviewing all of his films. Next up is 1986’s work for hire The Color Of Money reviewed by Joel Meadows…
The Color Of Money
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Released the year after the atypical yet clever After Hours, The Color of Money is generally considered by critics to be somewhat of a low point in Scorsese’s career. The 1980s was a strange decade for the director: after the exceptional King Of Comedy and the aforementioned After Hours, Color of Money feels as if Scorsese had reverted to his pre-Mean Streets period as a director for hire. Out of nearly his entire canon, this film barely registers his artistic footprint, and is even more conventional and straightforward than Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. There is no pushing the envelope here, or attempts to mimic or channel earlier, outré schools of cinema – the project was clearly meant as a stopgap exercise before his next regeneration and return to form.
Twenty-five years after The Hustler, Paul Newman reprised his role of Fast Eddie Felson. With his best days long behind him, Felson survives as a whisky salesman while still haunting pool halls, until he happens upon the young, inexperienced and above all immature Vincent (Tom Cruise). Before long, Felson takes Vincent under his wing and starts mentoring him, not just as a player but as a younger version of himself.
Despite a screenplay from old hand Richard Price and a very assured performance from Newman, The Color Of Money rarely escapes its pedestrian premise. Cruise’s Vincent is a very one-dimensional character and only once does the film really come to life, towards the end of its running time. Scorsese, going through the motions as he was, makes no effort to mirror the atmospherics and psychological undertow of The Hustler. Despite his claims that he had ambition concerning this entry (he cited Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus as an influence here), it generally fails to ignite, simply because Cruise has never been strong on nuance or subtlety – what is obvious is that he wasn’t a Scorsese actor. Cruise may have been diligent in his preparation for the role (he even bought a pool table and practiced constantly on it so he would look credible when playing) but his presence meant that despite all good intentions, Color of Money was never going to be much more than Rocky on baize.
Nevertheless, there was Paul Newman, an actor whose turn for the Best Actor Oscar was long overdue, putting in a very credible performance as the faded Eddie Felson. By this point Newman had become a far less intense performer – the edgy, youthful exuberance that he once mustered for The Hustler and other 60s classics replaced by a quieter, somnolent character actor. However, everything about this film is anchored by his assured, reined in turn.
Jackie Gleason had also planned to make a return here as Felson nemesis Minnesota Fats, but the actor eventually declined, citing his prospective cameo as a mere afterthought. Which is more or less what the movie really is, apart from being a star vehicle for Cruise, whose swaggering, one-note take on his part does pall after a while – predictably there isn’t much chemistry between the two leads, as they were at opposite ends of the acting spectrum. What was also missing was the Faustian Svengali figure George C. Scott played in the The Hustler – but there was no room in the narrative beyond the relationship between Cruise and Newman.
In the end, Newman got his Oscar (primarily, it was believed back then, as restitution for being overlooked for his notably better effort in The Verdict). What was evident throughout this film is that making a movie about a non-contact sport such as pool would require more of the drama to be off the table than on it, which was a rule that was observed in The Hustler. Despite excellent turns from John Turturro and Forest Whitaker, and of course Paul Newman’s layered shift, Color of Money was the sort of movie that Scorsese couldn’t get away with twice in a row, as it committed the cardinal sin of being bland and laboured. With Scorsese, regardless of whether his movies were towering successes or overblown failures, what they weren’t was forgettable. Thankfully his next two entries would see him return to form, remind cinemagoers of his importance in the medium, and put artistic compromise behind him.
Here’s the film’s trailer
Here’s the other Month Of Marty reviews so far as well