Structural and Thematic Review of Martin Scorsese's "The Color of Money"
American Cinema has succeeded in depicting the realities of present-day America. Martin Scorsese is one such director who has managed the task in his slow burn style. This paper is a review of one of his works, The Color of Money with this perspective.
THE COLOR OF MONEY: STRUCTURAL AND THEMATIC REVIEW
The Color of Money was released in 1986 by Touchstone Studio (On Location, 2002). It was directed by Martin Scorsese with Michael Ballhaus as the cinematographer. The main cast featured Paul Newman, Tom Cruise and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio who played the three most significant characters around which the plot and the themes of the film are built. Lasting for an hour and fifty-eight minutes, The Color of Money is based on the novel written by Walter Tevis and is associated with The Hustler of 1961 to which it is believed to be a sequel (The Color of Money: Paul Newman, 2002). This film belongs to the genre of drama with a tinge of historic genre. The Color of Money is acclaimed to be a typical Scorsese's film conducted in his slow burn seventies style on which his film Taxi Driver too is patterned. The film won an Oscar Award for actor Paul Newman who played the character of Fast Eddie Felson and was merely nominated for an Oscar in the original version titled The Hustler. The film was shot in Chicago, Illinois and Atlantic City (New Jersey) for some Boardwalk and casino exteriors. Earlier narration in the film was recorded in the director Scorsese's own voice. Moreover, Tom Cruise learned and played all of the required trick shots except one which was instead performed by the professional Mike Sigel who along with other pool players of that era provided assistance to the cast of the film.
The Color of Money is centered on the processes involved and its underlying themes in the underworld of pool games and pool sharking. This underworld is depicted by three characters namely Eddie Felson, Vincent Lauria and Carmen played by Paul Newman, Tom Cruise and Mary Elizabeth respectively. Fast Eddie Felson plays a bar owner who was banned from playing pool on account of his extraordinary prowess at pool playing. Once the best pool player, he has turned into a pool shark and is on the lookout for a protege with just raw talent whom he can train for the professional billiards circuit. While on a lookout, Felson notices Lauria at a pool hall who is fleecing a professional pool hustler by beating him at his own game using just the innate talent. Requiring these exact traits, Felson convinces Lauria to partner with him by striking the deal through which he would educate and train Lauria in the trickery so necessary to pool shots in exchange of sharing the funds won as a result of professional playing. Carmen plays Lauria's girlfriend whose role is very substantive both to the plot and the underlying themes. She possesses where Lauria lacks; the cunning required to make it big. Carmen is the one who gives Felson a hard time while he convinces Lauria to partner. However, once the trio has struck the deal, they plan and train for the 9-ball Tournament in Atlantic City. Through an acting chemistry that asserts the group dynamics between the three characters, the film moves towards the climax where Felson has trained Lauria to the point of regret. Lauria is not willing to be a student and Felson is not willing to be a mentor because of respective personality traits. Felson and Lauria shift to the competing ends where the former has vowed to enhance his pool practice to match and compete with Lauria's genius and talent. The film ends in the showdown between the two characters at semifinals in Vegas.
The Color of Money was Scorsese's first true box-office hit" (Biography, 2002) when it was released and screened throughout the United States. However, the film did not go down well with the critics who kept comparing it with the earlier version namely The Hustler. The critical reception that The Color of Money received had one criticism voiced repeatedly. The plot and its execution with particular emphasis to the ending, was considered to be dull, flat and lacking over whelming screen presence of The Hustler. Most of the critics argued that The Color of Money was not a worthy sequel to The Hustler but that it was just a haphazard remake. The critics were however pleased with the acting of the entire cast ("the cast is brilliant" (Keogh, 2002) but lamented the absence of George Scott who had really brought the glow to The Hustler. Where Newman was considered worthy of the Oscar, "few can fault Paul Newman's Oscar win for The Color of Money (it was certainly about time!)" (Erickson, 2002) and "Newman won a deserved Oscar for his performance" (Keogh, 2002); Cruise was also praised for his performance. "Mention should be made of Tom Cruise's performance, which is every bit as accomplished as Newman's. One of these days, Cruise is going to make a picture in which the critical attention will not be concentrated on some attention-getting heavyweight like Newman, Hoffman or Nicholson, and it will be Cruise who walks down the aisle on Oscar night" (Erickson, 2002). In retrospect, it seems that it was Cruise's first breakthrough within the context of this particular film genre. However, Martin Scorsese was criticized for the ornate direction of the film, which was viewed in direct contrast of the "austere" treatment of The Hustler. "One brief scene is shot from the point-of-view of the cue ball!"(Erickson, 2002) and "Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus make an ornate show of the collision and flight of pool balls through space" (Keogh, 2002). Moreover, the film was seen as anti-climatic with the second half reduced to nothing. In the words of Tom Keogh, "the film...[is] weaker in its second half, and rightly so, as everything that was interesting in the first place, disappears."
An exhaustive viewing and reviewing of The Color of Money reveals that the fair execution of the themes by the director, the brilliant execution of the script by the actors and the power of the biting one liners entwined within the script were by far the most significant and positive attributes of the film. This can be proven through a thorough reference to the script, the editing of the shots and the execution of specific shots contained within the film.
The themes that the director has tried to highlight are as diverse as the scope of the film. The themes have been executed through all modes available. The tone of the film, the caustic wording of the script, the expressions depicted by the actors and of course the plot of the film, all combine to set the underlying themes the director wants to communicate. The most apparent theme is that of cynicism vs. na vete. With immense directorial skills and so far the steadiest use of camera, Scorsese brings out the theme through the zooms and the pans. In addition, the actors bring it out in the execution of script as the seasoned character of Felson expresses his script through twisted grins. To highlight the theme, the script states, "...excellence in pool is not excellent pool." This theme is supported by sub-themes that are spread out through the film. Greed is one phenomenon used here to assert the reality of the sugarcoated world. This is depicted in the scene when Felson turns down the sexual advances of Lauria's girlfriend for fear that such a development might shake his relationship with Lauria which he is cultivating because he views him as his ticket to wealth. The director communicates the central theme by depicting that even romantic relationships are used for attainment of materialistic purposes. There is a scene when Felson teaches Carmen to use "that thing" in order to seduce for fulfillment of ulterior motives. This is depicted through out the film through the character of Felson who is shown to play every situation to his personal favor for the attainment of his goals. To advance his personal vendetta of acquiring wealth through pool sharking, Felson is shown to convince Lauria by giving every plausible explanation. He tries to reason with Lauria by misleading him into believing that he is holding himself back by not joining him as a partner. Felson goes to the extent of using Carmen as a ploy.
In addition to this theme is another, which the director has brought to our notice. This theme highlights the fact that appearances are deceptive. What is apparent is not what is lying underneath. For instance, the character of Lauria projects an aura of cool. However, underneath lies the personality that is shown to be hopelessly insecure, jealous, aggressive, nervous and naive as the character of Felson describes him as a "flake." The actors have managed to bring out…