Dynamite. One of the best American
films of the early 1960s, THE HUSTLER is loaded with Biblical symbolism
and allegory, but you can enjoy the film without noticing any of
that. Director Robert Rossen shows his mastery of the
technique by often dividing the screen into three parts to tell three
different visual stories.
As for acting, this is as good as it gets. Jackie Gleason, who effortlessly steals every scene he's in, uses silence to convey the inner torment and self-loathing that lurks beneath Minnesota Fats's boisterous, ego-driven exterior. George C. Scott delivers a performance that rivals DR. STRANGELOVE for the best supporting work of his career; he's all serpentine menace as he seduces Eddie to take a bite from the apple of high-stakes gambling. It takes an actor of considerable skill to hold his own against these two magnificent hams, and Paul Newman is such an actor. He's mesmerizing as his character of Eddie Felson gradually matures and transforms from an adrenaline-charged, arrogant punk into a worldly wise redeemed soul.
The love-story subplot, although perhaps overlong, is in many ways the centerpiece of the film, its tragic and inevitable ending serving as the catalyst for Eddie's redemption. I didn't appreciate Piper Laurie's performance when I was younger (perhaps because it takes time to get used to her odd hollow-gravelly voice), but I now recognize the depth and tenderness she brings to her doomed character. In all, a true masterpiece from a time when great films abounded with smoke-filled rooms and jazzy soundtracks. - JL
The Color of Money (1986)