The Color of Money Review
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It’s almost hard to believe that Tom Cruise—now a middle-aged movie mogul / Hollywood heavyweight—was once just a goofy kid with a bad haircut. But, years and years ago, he was just that: the new kid in town. And, back in 1986 (the same year that Top Gun hit theaters), that up-and-coming hotshot was given the opportunity of a lifetime: to star opposite Paul Newman in a movie by Martin Scorsese.

In Scorsese’s The Color of Money, Newman offers up an Oscar-winning performance while reprising his role as Fast Eddie Felson from 1961’s The Hustler. Once known for his pool-playing skills, Eddie is now an extremely successful liquor salesman—but he’s never really given up on the old game. He knows talent when he sees it—and cocky young Vincent Lauria (Cruise) definitely has talent.

Eddie offers to teach Vincent the art of hustling while sponsoring him and his sharp-witted girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), on a tour of the country’s best pool halls, concluding with a big nine-ball tournament in Atlantic City. But he soon discovers that, while Vincent has plenty of talent, he’s also got an abundance of ego.

Though it may not have been the stellar sequel that fans of The Hustler had been hoping for, The Color of Money is still a captivating study of two men who find themselves thrown together at very different points in their lives. Newman’s Eddie is a hardened old hustler who gave up the game long ago, though he still longs for the action. He’s cool and smooth, with a firm grasp on all of the tricks of the trade—and he’s eager to pass those tricks on to his young protégé, hoping that they’ll both benefit.

Cruise’s Vincent, meanwhile, is the young hothead—the cocky kid who’s pretty sure that he already knows everything that he’ll ever need to know. He’s loud and boisterous and ready to take on the world—and he’s reluctant to take what seems to be questionable advice from a bitter old rich guy.

In a way, the relationship fits perfectly. At the time, Newman was already long-time Hollywood veteran with a highly respected career. Cruise, meanwhile, was just a young punk, fresh from Risky Business—and he gives the character appropriate but almost annoying bravado. He’s fidgety and naïve and immature, and his character’s overactive ego is often absolutely maddening (which sometimes makes the film as a whole somewhat maddening, too). Still, the characters play off each other well—so very different, yet so similar. And it’s that dynamic that makes the film fascinating.

The filmmaking, meanwhile, has plenty of Scorsese’s signature grit. And though the film revolves around its endless games of nine-ball, the legendary director manages to keep it all fresh and even exciting, often using a variety of different angles and techniques to hold viewers’ interest.

Sure, The Color of Money isn’t without its flaws. But, thanks to its bookend-like stars, it’s a fascinating character study nonetheless—a memorable look at the recklessness of youth and the wisdom and longing of age.

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