In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “The Color of Money is three masters of their craft at work.”
“You gotta have two things to win. You gotta have brains and you gotta have balls. Now, you got too much of one and not enough of the other.”
Once actors reach real mega stardom, it becomes easier and easier to take them for granted, or even dismiss them completely. But more often than not, the reason they became mega stars in the first place is that they’re really good actors. Good looks and natural charisma only take people so far, but to really breakthrough, they have to have some chops. Tom Cruise has been one of Hollywood’s biggest mega stars for three decades, and he’s often tossed off as an empty vessel. But there’s a reason that Tom Cruise has been one of Hollywood’s biggest mega stars for so long, he’s a really good actor. Which is something I’m reminded of when I watch his older work, movies like The Color of Money.
A quarter of a century after The Hustler, ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) is back. No longer playing pool himself, he hustles by financing and mentoring the next generation, people like John Turtorro’s Julian. One night, Julian is convincingly beaten by a new face in town, Vincent (Cruise). Immediately, Felson realises this kid has raw talent that can make them both more money than ever before.
Until now, Vincent’s girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) has been helping him hustle pool halls, but she doesn’t see the angles Falson does. So the three hit the road, under Falson’s tutelage, conning, betting and winning their way through one small town after another. ‘Fast’ Eddie’s world weary experience clashes with Vincent’s brash cocksureness, while there’s almost immediately tension between the three as the two alpha males try to impress Carmen.
These days, Martin Scorsese is one of cinema’s few living, undisputed masters. If he makes a movie, it’s gonna get Oscar nominations and that’s just an accepted inevitability. But in the mid 80s, Martin Scorsese was a hit and miss director for hire, taking whatever job came is way. And it’s those unfortunate circumstances that lead to him making a seemingly unnecessary sequel to a classic from 25 years earlier.
There’s nothing at the end of The Hustler that makes it seem like Eddie Felson needs a sequel. It’s a great movie that stands on its own and wraps its story up perfectly. So the idea of an out of favour Scorsese, making a possibly icon besmirching sequel, starring the current star of the day, makes The Color of Money seem like a terrible idea on every level. But here’s the thing, Scorsese is one of the greatest film makers of all time, Paul Newman created one of the greatest characters of all time with ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson, and Tom Cruise was the star of the day because he’s a really watchable and entertaining. So in hindsight, this movie working as well as it does just seems obvious and inevitable.
The Hustler in no way needed a sequel. Any other time in his career, and Martin Scorsese isn’t the kind if director who has to make a cash grab sequel. Paul Newman had no reason to risk taking the shine off one of his most iconic and revered characters. Tom Cruise was a mega star who could pick and choose any movie, so he had no reason to be a part of a long past it’s used by date sequel either. What I’m getting at is, The Color of Money had everything going against it. But in the end, Scorsese, Newman and Cruise gained their success for a reason, they’re all really amazing at their jobs. And The Color of Money is three masters of their craft at work.