I just saw The Hustler (1961) for the second time. I actually saw the main scenes of the movie quite a few times during the past years, I liked reseeing the movie quite a bit.
(note!) Spoilers ahead, don’t read the review unless you already saw the movie (note!)
- The movie is intensely psychological. On the surface, it’s a movie on fights & winning. But the inner fights, the inner struggles are much deeper and are quite interesting to see. Some conflicts to see:
- Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), the main character, and his wish to win.
- Eddie Felson and his wish to beat his condition.
- Eddie Felson and his wish to never settle for something small.
- Eddie Felson and his fight with the systems (he is insubordinate, he always fights).
- Eddie Felson and his fight with being better.
- Eddie Felson and his fight with its vices (drinking).
- Eddie Felson and his fight of being the successful capitalist, rather than the unsuccessful socialist (there’s a fight with other people, who prefer people to be equal one to the other; he develops his skills, others want to drag him down).
- Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), the already-proved champion, and his fight to always succeed.
- Minnesota Fats and his fight to be a kind person, nevertheless.
- Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), Eddie’s girl, and her fight to have a fulfilled life.
- Sarah Packard and her fears of the unknown.
- Sarah Packard and her fears of not being loved.
- Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), the bad guy, and his fight to succeed.
- Bert Gordon and his fight to make life more exciting, his appetite for the rush of adrenaline.
- Bert Gordon and his wish for control.
- All the characters try to be polite, even if the world around them isn’t.
- The movie focuses very little on the game of pool, and very much on the inner fights of the characters. What happens inside you is more important than what happens outside. For example, the development of the relationship between Sarah, Eddie and Bert.
- The most intense fight I saw in the movie was the fight induced by Bert Gordon for others to be better:
- He tells Eddie he’s a loser and insists on that. At times, he calls him a “crippled”.
- He tells Sarah Packard she’s not worth much.
- He tells Findley he’s a loser.
- He forgets people’s names on purpose. He purposely tries to make them feel unimportant.
- Each character tries to fight against this. They can’t stand being called a loser. Eddie wants to prove things, so does Sarah, Findley doesn’t, and he, thus, loses. The movie is mostly about the fights each person has to be better. When Charlie Burns (Myron McCormick) says he only wants to retire and have a pool room and live on that, he is looked at with discontent. This is accepting a situation, and no one in the movie does that. Bert Gordon only ignites the fire, but the conflict is already in each of the character.
- I liked the script a lot. I also liked the play of the actors. Well made movie.
A quote from IMDb:
“Every character in The Hustler is a hustler of some sort. Fast Eddie makes a living hustling and his relationship with Sarah begins as a hustle. Sarah’s own hustle involves her invention of a character that she pretends to be all the time instead of being herself. Everything she tells Fast Eddie in early scenes is later revealed as a lie, ironically including the part about her past career as an actress. Eddie’s manager Bert Gordon (George C. Scott) hustles Eddie by mocking him at certain times to keep him in control. Even Minnesota Fats hustles Eddie in subtle ways by acting as if he is in control during their contests.
Essentially The Hustler is a character driven film about Fast Eddie’s struggle to find meaning in his own life. He has to choose between success in pool or his relationship with Sarah. This conundrum (and his desire to prove himself) torments Eddie, but the decision is ultimately taken away from him and Eddie learns the bitter lesson that an individual doesn’t always have time to make his own decisions.” (source)