Pool Hall Days – The Hustler (1961)

Probably the coolest movie about billiards that there will ever be.  So this is about a pool player (Paul Newman).  He wants to be one of the greats, so he takes his shot at the best player in the nation: Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason).  This is one of those movies that I had heard about, knew what it was about, but had never actually sat down to watch it.  There’s no better excuse than the list to rectify gaping holes in my film education, and my wife and I took the time one lazy Saturday afternoon to watch this back in July.  Besides, Paul Newman is one of the coolest guys to have ever graced Hollywood with his presence, and he quite plainly doesn’t make bad movies.

2I would still probably say that Hombre is my favorite of his movies that I’ve seen so far.

This is a really good movie, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be.  It starts off really fun, and the competition grabs you immediately as soon as he walks into a pool hall.  There are trick shots and the occasional bout of trash talk, and it makes you want to pick up a cue.  You can tell that our protagonist has his issues, and he may not be all that stable, but he comes off as more of a rascal than anything, and it is all fun and you can’t wait to hear the next thing that comes out of his mouth, or see the next impossible shot he’s going to attempt.  You’re having such a good time, and then the movie brings you back down to Earth with the drama.  This man is a mess, and then he crosses paths with a potential love interest (Piper Laurie) who is as equally in need of an intervention as he is.  They’re both alcoholics, and their negativity and bad habits feed off of one another.  It doesn’t turn into a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, it just ceases to be the fun time that you were having up to that point.

1In addition, he’s also got a bad gambling addiction as well, but you probably could have figured that out by the title.

Paul Newman has screen presence for days, and when he is talking, you pay attention.  I love the black and white photography, it really makes you feel like you’re in a smoky pool hall with all of these characters.  When it takes a turn for the serious, you do start to feel the length, which is really my only nitpick in this 134-minute movie.  These are the messy lives of imperfect people, and it is easy to see why this has gathered the acclaim that it has.

The Hustler (1961) ****

– Critic for Hire

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