Touchstone Pictures // 1986 // 119 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino // July 9th, 2012
"Nine-Ball is rotation pool, the balls are pocketed in numbered order. The only ball that means anything, that wins it, is the 9. Now, the player can shoot eight trick shots in a row, blow the 9, and lose. On the other hand, the player can get the 9 in on the break, if the balls spread right, and win. Which is to say, that luck plays a part in nine-ball. But for some players, luck itself is an art."
Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning film about pool hustling celebrates its 25th Anniversary with an unceremonious Blu-ray release.
In this sequel to Robert Rossen's The Hustler, Paul Newman reprises his role as "Fast Eddie" Felson, a pool shark who retired from the game to sell whiskey. When Eddie meets untamed talent Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise, Top Gun) and his street-smart girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, The Abyss), he sees a reason to get back in the game.
Eddie takes Vincent under his wing, acting as a stakehorse and a trainer in the fine art of hustling. Together, the three plan on playing all the way to the Atlantic City 9-Ball Tournament. After more than a few failed attempts at reigning in Vincent, Fast Eddie decides to strike out on his own and win the tournament himself.
The Color of Money is based on the 1984 novel by Walter Tevis, who also wrote The Hustler (1959). Paul Newman won an Oscar for his performance.
Scorsese's opening voiceover concludes with the line "for some players, luck itself is an art." If you're a great pool player, you know all the tricks. You know how to put English on the ball, or how to jump two to sink one. And you especially know how to hustle a guy out of some cash. The Color of Money is filled with this stuff, sure, but it's also loaded with subtly devastating filmmaking tricks. This may be considered one of Scorsese's "minor" films, but he's still a master hustler when it comes to camera work, atmosphere, and storytelling.
The Color of Money is both an excellent sports film and an engaging look into one of America's easily forgotten underbellies. It's easy to see why, when the movie was released in 1986, there was a renewed interest in 9-ball and billiards. It looks cool; the guys playing it are confident, rich, and dangerous; and just a glimpse into this world of second-floor gambling and sportsmanship is enough to make anyone want to start hustling. But it's the dichotomy between Eddie the old guard gentleman, and Vincent the young obnoxious buffoon, that pushes the story forward...and pushes Eddie out of retirement for one last go at glory.
Newman is spectacular as the reserved, often repressed, veteran. He hides behind his sunglasses, and uses his pride as a shield against most things -- until he breaks down at the hands of a young Forest Whitaker! Tom Cruise, who made this movie in the midst of his big '80s run of blockbusters, couldn't have been better as the unhinged, arrogant youngster. Caught between both these guys is Mastrantonio, who walks a fine line between strong and reckless. Many of the other supporting roles are filled by real life pool players, giving Scorsese's game sequences some added reality. There's not a weak ball in this rack.
The Color of Money is quite possibly the best looking billiards movie ever made. Scorsese takes a simple game and dresses it up with some of the slickest and most subtle camera tricks imaginable. Sure, if you made a pool movie nowadays, you could swoop around the table and beneath it easily with CGI or a tiny HD camera. Scorsese is pulling this stuff off with a mid '80s film camera. He's composing long takes where Newman and Cruise sink two or three shots in a row. He cuts montages with an almost musical rhythm. And when we arrive at the Atlantic City 9-Ball tournament, Scorsese pulls off an epic crane shot that will have you chanting "go! go! go!" until it stops. The film can be flashy, like the thunderous crash every time Newman breaks or when Scorsese decides to speed ramp the games, but it also has moments where good craftsmanship takes over. It's a delight.
Too bad, then, that Disney is the real shark here. This "25th Anniversary Edition" Blu-ray features an awful video transfer and zero special features. This 1.85:1/1080p print hasn't been cleaned up a lick. While the film grain is fine, there's a fair amount of digital artifacts, especially apparent during quick movement and pans. Worse is the coloration: the shadows, most noticeably on the actors' faces, are soft and muddy. For a film basking in pools of light, smoke, and shadow, the transfer could have used some serious fine tuning. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio -- with its killer soundtrack and nice atmospheric surrounds -- earns its stripes, but this catalog release is just plain sloppy and deserves better. There are no extras.
The Color of Money is a wonderfully-crafted entry in Martin Scorsese's filmography. Though not as loud and aggressive as his other work, it's just as well-made and features a rock solid cast. It's a film definitely worth seeing, but don't go out of your way to purchase this Blu-ray.
Review content copyright © 2012 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R