THE HUSTLER, 1961
Directed by Robert Rossen
Starring Paul Newman
George C. Scott
"Fast" Eddie Felson is a small-time pool hustler with a lot of talent but a self-destructive attitude.
In a wide assortment of films that tell strong thematic stories of what life is all about in the 20th Century, The Hustler is on top of the list.
There's a great monologue by the film's Mentor/Antagonist Burt Gordan (George C. Scott) in the middle of the film that sums up what this movie is all about:
BERT: You have the best excuse in the world for losing; no trouble losing when you got a good excuse. Winning... that can be heavy on your back, too, like a monkey. You'll drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotta do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. One of the best indoor sports, feeling sorry for yourself. A sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.
Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) is a great pool player. Probably the best there is. But he doesn't have the character that leads people to success. Everytime he's at the gateway of earning glory, Eddie flushes it down the toilet.
If there is a thesis statement for this film it would be: What is success and what must a man do to achieve the mastery of their craft?
Eddie needs to toughen up and not make excuses, but he also realizes on the journey that there are also sacrifices that have to happen in order for him to be the greatest pool player of them all. Glory may not be all its cracked up to be and being tough takes a complete makeover.
I first saw this film in 1998. I was in New York City at the time and I couldn't sleep so decided to just ride the subways. I happened to meet a girl who was going to a friend's house to watch the movie The Hustler. She asked me if I was interested in coming along to watch this film at 4:00am in the morning. I did and was really happy that I did because I saw the perfect movie I needed to watch at the right moment in my life.
I didn't get the girl, but got a great movie experience. Only in New York.
Nine years later I watched it again and loved it even more. The acting, the art direction and the Cinematography is top notch. But it's the truth, the truth of humanity and the truth of figuring out what is really the purpose of being. All by telling of story of a bunch of guys playing a game of pool.
Character? What is character? Why do some people who obviously have more talent than others have such a hard time figuring out life? And why do others who have half the talent, succeed in life with fame, fortune and glory? This film tackles why this occurs and what a man must travel to obtain character.
A truly great film. The Hustler is a film that everyone needs to see.