"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? Written by
After thugs break his thumbs, Eddie wears cast on his hands that remain sparking white for weeks - an impossibility because casts are dirt magnets that quickly become dingy-looking under the best of conditions and he's seen spilling coffee on them, lives in a seedy apartment, goes outside for a picnic and so on. See more »
What if I don't pay ya, Bert?
You don't pay me? You're gonna get your thumbs broken again. And your fingers. If I want 'em to, they're gonna break your right arm in three or four places.
You better pay him, Eddie.
So you figure you're still my manager, huh?
I'm a business-man, kid.
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It's an intriguing idea. If a person is talented, that person should be a winner. And, we would expect a loser to be someone who is not talented. But the idea that someone could be a talented loser is a paradox, a contradiction that doesn't fit into the conventional mindset of American culture, and is the basis for "The Hustler", a character study of an ace pool player who can't seem to win respect from his peers.
The pool player is (Fast) Eddie Felson (Paul Newman). The plot moves along by means of four secondary characters with whom Fast Eddie interacts: (1) his manager, Charlie; (2) the veteran pool player, Minnesota Fats; (3) Eddie's girlfriend, Sarah; and (4) the money man, Bert Gordon.
"The Hustler" is very much a product of the late 50's and early 60's, when progressive filmmakers were trying to buck the staid post WWII era, with its reactionary Cold War mentality that resulted in strict conformity to established American values. In this film, Bert Gordon and Minnesota Fats represent the establishment. Eddie Felson is the loner, up against the establishment; he's the renegade kid, out to beat the system. Yet, at every turn, the establishment beats Eddie, one way or another. His idealism is useless. He must conform to the establishment's rules, expressed in the film as "character", or give up his dreams.
The film is therefore very cynical and incredibly cold. From start to finish, there's not an ounce of humor. It depresses the spirit. But the film is a very good metaphor for a terrible era wherein societal repression was the norm.
While the story's main character may be a loser, the film itself is a talented winner. The excellent B&W lighting, together with a jazzy score, create an effectively somber and downbeat tone, consistent with the oppressive political atmosphere of that era. The dialogue is sparse and incisive. And the acting is persuasive. Paul Newman is convincing, as are the secondary characters. I especially liked the performance of Jackie Gleason, who comes across as suave, serious, and in total control, a great contrast to his comedic side, in "The Honeymooners".
"The Hustler" is depressing and grim. But the film is very well made. It entertains in ways that are obvious, and educates in ways that are subtle.
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