Watched: October 20 2018
Director: Robert Rossen
Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick
Runtime: 2h 14min
Eddie Felson (Newman) and Charlie Burns (McCormick) are hustling their way across the USA with the goal to challenge legendary pool player Minnesota Fats (Gleason). Find him they do, and the bigwig agrees to play Eddie, starting at $200 per game.
While Eddie gets off to a flying start, he gets drunk, conceited and easily manipulated and end up losing his entire $18 000 winnings back to Minnesota (the guy, not the state. Maybe we should just go with “Fats”?).
Humiliated and broke, Eddie leaves Charlie and half of his remaining money and skulks off into the night. At a bus station he meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), a charming alcoholic with a limp, and the two strike up a conversation and later a relationship.
The two seem happy together for a while, but then gambler Bert Gordon (Scott) offers to put up Eddie’s stakes in return for 75% of his winnings, and Eddie goes back out into the world of semi-professional pool playing – a world Sarah can see is no good for him. Or anyone else for that matter. But is Eddie ready to let his grudge against Minnesota Fats go? And how much is he willing to sacrifice to get a second chance at besting him?
We love how there’s very little preamble and backstory to The Hustler. We’re thrown right into the action and never given a moment to stop and catch our breaths until the end.
Paul Newman is fantastic in it, and Piper Laurie, reminding us of a (wonderful) cross between Carey Mulligan and Stockard Channing (Grease-era Channing, specifically), equally so. Sure, it centers around pool (ugh – a sport!) but that is not what this movie is about. So if you, like us, tend to avoid these kinds of films, give this one a chance. You (probably) won’t regret it. It’s powerful, moving and heartbreaking.
What we learned: We know way too little about the rules of pool. Also, don’t pursue obsessions at the cost of human relationships.
Next time: The Innocents (1961)