It’s rare for a sequel to be as good as the original film it’s piggy backing off of, especially when that sequel comes almost decades after the original (do we have to be reminded how awful Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, Staying Alive, or Caddyshack 2 were?). The problem mostly lies in the fact that sequels rely on an already existing and now popular idea, instead of creating a newly original story within the same realm as the original. Sequels usually tend to use the original story as a crutch to make a subpar, watered down retelling of an original, except with different characters playing similar roles.
The Color of Money picks up 20+ years after the events of the 1959 classic, The Hustler. Pool player “Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has given up the hustling life and is now a whiskey seller in a blossoming relationship with a bar owner. While on the job, Eddie witnesses a young, cocky, yet passionate pool player, Vincent (Tom Cruise), in action. Impressed and enthralled with Vincent’s skill, Eddie offers to take Vince and his girlfriend and manager, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), under his wing in an attempt to perfect Vince’s skill in the world of professional hustling. The trio embark in a slew of ups and downs as Vince and Eddie often clash with one another leading to an inevitable final throw down and twist.
“Hey this all feels pretty familiar… you think it’s because we’re in a sequel?”
The combination of stars involved in The Color of Money is astounding: Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Martin Scorsese, and cameos from Bill Cobbs, a surprisingly great Forest Whitaker, and John Turturro. With all of those great names come fantastic performances across the board. Although Turturro, as Julian, a coked out ex-protégé of Eddie, and Whitaker as Amos, a young hustler, are only in the film for a split second, they dominate their scenes, resulting in some of the film’s best parts.
Also, it almost goes without saying, but Scorsese’s camera work and editing is just as impressive as one would expect. He beautifully captures the art form that is pool playing in impressively innovative ways. With carefully edited tight close ups, the action and movement of the balls is framed and captured fluidly and seamlessly.
There are more balls in The Color of Money than the kids’ ball pit at McDonald’s… or better yet, in your mom.
With that combination of greatness from Scorsese, Newman, and Cruise, you’d expect The Color of Money to be epically great; but, ultimately, it’s just a fair film, partly because it just doesn’t hold up too well by today’s standards. The Color of Money has what I like to call an “80s aesthetic.” You know how most films from the 80s look like that decade because of the quaffed hair, awkward clothing, the dominant use of blue and red lighting, and that grainy VHS look? It doesn’t have that sharp, clean look that films with great cinematography have, and I’m not saying that because I’m used to HD. The Hustler was made in 1959 and looked incredible, which made watching it more pleasurable.
And that’s where the third beer comes in. If you’ve seen The Hustler, (especially right before watching The Color of Money) then this is just subpar in comparison. Not only does The Hustler simply look better, but it does a better job of developing its main character. Vince doesn’t receive the same treatment as Eddie in The Hustler. We are mostly shown Vince’s brash, arrogant side; whereas with Eddie in The Hustler, viewers are treated with seeing his soft and tender, vulnerable moments, making Eddie a more well-rounded and likable leading character.
Although it’s only two hours, I still felt that The Color of Money drags on in many parts and ultimately results in watching countless arguments, numerous life lessons being spoken about, and endless amounts of pool being played, which begins to get tedious after about an hour. The Color of Money is good, but it’s an outdated sequel that would have been better left unmade. The likes of Cruise, Newman, and Scorsese should have been enough to make an impacting, entertaining film, but instead it’s a slightly bland product of the 80s.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever a 9 ball makes it in a pocket
Take a Drink: whenever an argument between main characters happens
Take a Drink: for every person Vince plays
Take a Drink: For every badass song from the 80s (um, “Werewolf in London” anyone?)