The Color of Money (1986)

In 1986 two film miracles occurred. Martin Scorsese delivered a sequel to a classic film 25 years after its release with enough spirit and originality to avoid ruining the flavor of the original. Second, Tom Cruise made the genius move of capitalizing on his popularity with his most hilarious, vulnerable, smug and uniquely sympathetic role to date.

The Color of Money is the amazing follow up to Robert Bresson’s 1961 classic The Hustler. Paul Newman earned an Academy Award for his reprisal of “Fast” Eddie Felson, the former pool all star who is now a run-down liquor salesman. His reputation for pool hustling returns when he becomes stake horse for a highly skilled but incredibly pompous pool player named Vincent and his girlfriend Carmen. Eddie shows them the ropes in hustling large sums of money from unsuspecting opponents but becomes increasingly infuriated by Vincent’s eagerness to show off his skills to the point of breaking any anonymity and Carmen’s manipulative sexual advances. Their road trip ends short due to an explosive falling out and the climax of the film features Eddie picking up the cue once again in a final competition against Vincent himself.

First off, I’m a huge Tom Cruise fan and I’ve never understood why people give him so much shit. Of course he’s bat-shit crazy, arrogant, toothy-grinned, Scientology babbling, nutso in his public appearance. His characters in his films have shown this side since the beginning. Remember Taps? “It’s beautiful man! It’s beautiful”. It’s not surprising to me that Cruise is very much like his character Frank T.J. Mackey inMagnolia. For some reason ever since the Oprah Winfrey-Katie Holmes debacle people only seem to see Cruise as the crazy guy who once jumped on a couch and is now forever to be known as overrated. You damn fools! Think of how powerful this man’s filmography is! How many legends he’s worked with and how many great moments he’s given us!

“Colonel Jessup, Did You Order The Code Red”

“I’m not gonna do what you think I’m gonna do and just freak out”

“Adapt, Darwin, Eching”

“Sometimes you just gotta say: What the fuck”

The man’s a genius. And his performance as Vincent just may be my favorite. It’s a character that parallels Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler. He’s at once fun and energetic (watch him twirl his pool cue to Werewolves of London) and then suddenly intense and furious (watch him rip a railing off the wall after being abandoned by “Fast” Eddie). An actor can only be so lucky to be given a role that time capsules every inch of range and emotion you have to offer. It’s the quintessential Cruise. Love goes out to the underrated lost actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantionio. Whatever happened to this girl? She had such a great run from Scarface to Money to The Abyss. I remember her in The Perfect Storm in 2000 and she still looked good. Why doesn’t’ anyone use her? It’s not like she took the Karen Allen/Kathleen Turner route in looks.

The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time. Scorsese’s choice in late 70s/early 80s hits is phenomenal. Eric Clapton, Warren Zevon, Willie Dixon. The music and imagery in the pool hall sequences are unmatched. You feel every collide of the cue ball. Watch out for early performances from Forest Whitaker and John Turturro. And what’s more…there’s even the great character actor Bill Cobbs.

-John

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