The idea that sequels are merely cashing in on a brand is obviously rooted in truth, but that does not mean sequels lack artistic creadability. Martin Scorsese has made English-language remakes of foreign films (Infernal Affairs turns into The Departed) and he has remade classic Hollywood cinema (Cape Fear becomes another Cape Fear). Interestingly, he made a sequel in the film The Color of Money – a sequel to The Hustler. Both films star Paul Newman – and both have an insightful subtext about what it is to be human and, in The Hustler, what it is to be an American.
Paul Newman has a young, effortless charm and his good-looks contrast against the vast majority of the characters with old, weathered faces. ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson (Newman) with his Father-figure Charlie Burns (McCormick) shows how, whilst Charlie is aiming to retire and relax, Eddie still wants to win and be the best. Eddie has a self-destructive edge that also plays against the calming-love from drunkard Sarah Packard (Laurie Piper) – he has to balance the two and, with an agent like Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), it is a dangerous balancing act. Roger Ebert notes how what makes Newman so effective in the role is how “He doesn’t look like a hustler, but then the best ones never do.” and this is true.
USA and Business
My initial thought when Eddie played Fats was how Eddie may represent America: likeable, arrogant, keen to make money (“What other country will let you make $10,000 in one night?”) and yet we see him lose. Fats is much more calmer and respectful. Even the comparison between Eddie and Bert is two opposing-ends to business – Bert is a cold-hearted success-is-money man whilst Eddie is, by the end, defining success as love. He loved Sarah Packard and the business is what destroyed his success. Ebert explains how what makes the film a touchstone of cinema is how “This is one of the few American movies in which the hero wins by surrendering, by accepting reality instead of his dreams”. Put this in the context of the American Dream – the fantasy that working hard ensures financial success. It is clear that this film shows how this is not neccessarily the case and, moreso, that financial wealth is achievable by choosing to treat others with disrespect: unfair profit-margins that exploit the worker (Bert splits money 75:25 as Eddie shoots pool… despite Eddie holding the skills, it is Bert in a position of power to exploit Eddie) and ‘hustling’ tactics as you present yourself in a false-light to make the most profit.The Future is Pool
The first 30-minutes of the film is almost exclusively one game between Eddie and Minnesota Fats. As I watched it, I considered whether the film would be entirely within one-night. In fact, I hoped it would be because the characters, situation and sequence is so engaging. Inevitably, it moved on, but it was fascinating to see this brilliant face-off between characters. In this one sequence, we meet every cast member – except Sarah. Throughout the film, there is a constant reference to how Eddie is a “born-loser”, but I think there is hope to be pulled from this story as we cannot expect our ambitions and goals to come to us, we need to reach the goals. As a teacher, I find myself raising constantly stating how “you learn from your mistakes” and there is always a pessimism in the nature of a mistake – you have completed something ‘wrong’ and you have to accept that. But learning from mistakes is what is optimistic. Like the term ‘loser’, you need to accept the loss, learning from mistakes, and work on how to win. Ideally without becoming a cold-hearted, soulless, money-obssessed man like Bert.