Every Friday, our resident film fanatic Alex Aciman will dig deep into the pile of cinematic masterpieces and fish out one forgotten classic you should watch soonest.
Although The Hustler was nominated for nine academy awards, it has become something of a forgotten classic, in part because of how understated it seems compared to some of Paul Newman’s other films like Butch Cassidy and Cool Hand Luke.
Newman plays a young pool hustler named Fast Eddie who travels to New York for a chance at challenging the legendary pool shark Minnesota Fats, played by Jackie Gleason. Gleason is brilliant—a glowing, dressed-up presence of calm and menace who somehow manages to steal the show even with Paul Newman in the room. And Newman plays the part of the young, uncouth hustler so well that you begin to realize just how ridiculous Marlon Brando’s whole ruffian act is—that Stanley Kowalski is a caricature while Newman’s Fast Eddie is the real thing.
Fast Eddie is beat badly by Minnesota Fats, and between falling in love and trying to earn on the side by hustling at pool joints across the city, Eddie spends the film quibbling with his role both as a hustler and as a human being. It’s almost like a coming of age story, in which instead of becoming a man, Newman’s character becomes a mensch.
The Hustler is a master class in acting. Newman is unforgettable, and moves with a tireless shimmy of desperation and country charm and quiet rage. It is a story of broken people, of broken hearts, of just how difficult it is to know oneself and to be vulnerable in a world that thrives on deception and manipulation.