After having a traditional Polish meal of sauerkraut and noodles with fake kielbasa, I watched today's movie, The Hustler, directed in 1961 by Robert Rossen. My mom told me earlier in the day that my grandpa had really liked this movie, so it was fun to watch it, as I had never seen it before. It was a really great film, and I see why so many people love it. The characters were so incredibly well-written - the men and the women. It felt real, and gritty, and fascinating.
The movie is about a small-time pool hustler named Fast Eddie. He wants to become the best, and he competes with a well-known guy named Minnesota Fats. Eddie is arrogant, and even though he is initially beating Fats, they wind up playing for 25 hours. Eddie becomes drunk and tired, and loses all the money that he won. Of course, Eddie has to gain back his confidence so he can finally defeat Fats, but as IMDB hints, making it to the top "could cost him his soul".
Technical things are boring to write about, but the editing in this movie was seriously great. It's a little boring to watch other people play pool, you know? Here, it's exciting. It's tense. There is motive and feeling behind it. There are long scenes of just pool playing, and they were every bit as exciting as the other parts of the movie. Ebert writes about some of this, saying, "Billiards is the arena for the movie's contests, but there is no attempt to follow the game shot by shot, or even to explain the rules. The players are contesting each others' inner strength. The film could be about any seedy game depending on bluff, self-confidence, money management and psychology" (Great Movies II, 194). You don't need to know how to play pool to appreciate the scenes of the game. You get the tension and the real motivations behind the game. I love that.
Of course, Paul Newman as Fast Eddie is great. Everyone loves Paul Newman, and his charitable line of delicious foods. What I really loved, though, was that all the characters, not just Fast Eddie, were well-written and interesting. I thought that Sarah, Eddie's girlfriend, was so fascinating as a character. Bear with me here. There are a lot of recent movies about seedy men and con men, and women are not often involved in them. When they are, they are just an object, a motivation. I'm sure you can think of a dozen examples of this. This is not a good example, but it's the first one that comes to mind - Oceans 11. The woman doesn't really have a story or feelings. She is just the motivation for one of the characters to pull off the heist. Sarah is not just an object. She has a back story, she has quirks, she has feelings and thoughts about what goes on around her. I like that, not just because of "the wimmins" or whatever, but because it's nice to see a film where the full ensemble of characters have a lot of thought put into them.
It's sort of late, so I'm not going to ramble on any more. If you haven't seen this movie, it's great, and it's worth renting. It's smooth and interesting and full of fascinating characters. There's great editing and cinematography, incredible tension, and engrossing psychological play. Let me know if you check it out!
Have any of you seen The Hustler? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Hustler
Buy it on Amazon