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With: Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, John Turturro, Bill Cobbs, Forest Whitaker
Written by: Richard Price, based on a novel by Walter Tevis
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 119
Date: 10/08/1986

The Color of Money (1986)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Way That You Use It

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money is known as the movie that finally won Paul Newman a Best Actor Oscar, almost as a consolation prize after a long and impressive career. It was a sequel to the much more respected The Hustler and it's hard to compare the two. Whereas The Hustler was gritty, realistic black-and-white, The Color of Money is a product of the 1980s, all color, pop music, and slick editing. Yet there's something great about it, if you can look at it not as a sequel, but as its own entity.

Twenty-six years after The Hustler, Fast Eddie Felson (Newman) has given up pool and has taken to selling fine booze. While working in a particular saloon he spots Vince (Tom Cruise), playing pool like there's no tomorrow. He's enormously talented, but raw, reckless, and untrained, and he sets Eddie's wheels spinning. Eddie gets the idea to take him on the road and make a little money. Vince insists on bringing his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) along. Of course, there's trouble as mentor and student continually butt heads.

Cruise is magnificent here. He had been in Top Gun earlier in the year, which probably drew attention away from how measured and powerful his performance is here. He's busting with energy, and he knows how to direct it through different channels for different scenes. He's cocky -- I love that t-shirt with "VINCE" printed in large white letters -- but he gives Vince a soul.

All things point to a showdown between them, and what Scorsese chooses to show -- and chooses not to show -- no doubt irritated a great many movie fans (those who weren't already irritated by the fact that it was a sequel). But the movie has a wonderful use of grungy pool halls and back alleys, somehow making an energetic combination of slick and gritty; these dives pulse with an appealing vigor. (Michael Ballhaus was the cinematographer.) The pop tunes -- "Werewolves of London" is especially memorable -- and Robbie Robertson's music help.

Besides Newman's Oscar, the film received three more nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Mastrantonio), Best Screenplay, written by novelist Richard Price, and Best Art Direction. I remember seeing this in the winter of 1986 with my friends, and for months afterward, we hung around my friend Paul's house playing pool, trying to mimic the shots -- and the attitude -- from the film.

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