Every major actor has a role or two that they are immortalized as; a role that is an iconic staple within their careers. Marlon Brando has Stanly Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire, Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Bette Davis’ Margo Channing in All About Eve, and Johnny Depp has Edward Scissorhands. When most people think of iconic star and beloved actor, Paul Newman, one of two roles come up, Luke from Cool Hand Luke and “Fast” Eddie Felston in The Hustler, and it’s no wonder as both roles are shining examples of Newman’s talent.
The Hustler follows the highs and lows in the career of “Fast” Eddie, a young passionate pool player attempting to claim his spot as the greatest pool hustler in the country. On his quest to beat a legendary pool player, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), Eddie must overcome a loss of luck, failed confidence and a struggling relationship with a lush college girl, Sarah (Piper Laurie), before he can make his way to the top.
No special effects, no gimmicks, just a good old fashioned story about trying to be the best. And balls!
Paul Newman. That name alone should be enough validation for the greatness of The Hustler, but alas, I will elaborate for the sake of a decent review. Newman’s portrayal of Eddie is phenomenal. Newman will forever be a legendary actor simply because of his ability to convincingly convey human emotion and tendencies through his characters in his glory days. He became his characters, giving them realism through his naturally charming personality. Eddie is genuine and his drive for success is applauded by audiences because of his passion for the game. During a montage of Eddie’s first battle against Fats, Eddie is seen watching in astonishment as his famed and legendary idol competes with him. The look on Newman’s face says it all, with a glow in his bright eyes and an amused smirk on his face, Eddie’s face is lit with both astonishment and child-like admiration even when he loses to Fats.
Robert Rossen’s direction is also a major highlight of The Hustler. Rossen creates a physically beautiful film that captures astounding picture-esque moments through stark black and white images and highly dramatized lighting. Being a product of The Classical Hollywood era, The Hustler is a simple straightforward narrative that delivers a conflict and solution with great character development in between. The world in which Eddie exists just drenches coolness; men play in tailored suits, cigars are smoked, and the lighting makes everyone look stoic and flattering.
“Remind me of how I’m not the coolest person here right now… I mean just look at me.”
The Hustler is a fantastic character study done in the best way possible. It’s a classic that stands the test of time as being both entertaining and a beautifully captivating. If the imagery alone doesn’t intrigue you, then Paul Newman’s screen presence will.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time a montage happens
Take a Drink: whenever Eddie and Sarah seemingly bone
Take a Drink: whenever Sarah drinks/talks about drinking
Take a Drink: for every scratch ball