Initially released on the same year as Paris Blues, which Paul Newman also starred in, The Hustler tells the story of infamous pool hustler Eddie Felson (Newman). Felson goes from pool hall to pool hall, hustling amateur pool players out of their hard-earned money. It’s a strategy that earned him the titled “Fast Eddie.”
While his skills are in no doubt, the young pool shark certainly has more to learn about the game – a lesson he has to learn the hard way. His one goal in life is to beat Minnesota Fats, the greatest living pool player on the face of the earth. He finally gets his chance, and what transpires then is a cutthroat pool session spanning an intense 40 hours. Not knowing when to stop, Felson is left at a spectacular loss as Fats ends up winning the game.
Down in the dirt, our egoistic anti-hero then meets and moves in with an equally flawed writer-slash-alcoholic woman named Sarah. However, she isn’t the only person who puts Newman’s character under a spell. Notorious gambler Bert Gordon has had his eye on him after seeing him play Fats. He offers to take Eddie under his tutelage and show him how to play in the big leaguers. Of course, it comes with a few strings attached. He demands 75% of Felson’s winnings, and not thinking he has much of a choice, Felson agrees.
Felson, Bert, and Sarah then embark on a trip to Louisville for a high-stakes match with a fellow named Findlay. What follows is more than just a game of pool – it’s a gamble where Felson questions his morals and values. It isn’t long before trouble catches up with them once again, and our bruised leading man is left to pick up the pieces.
In truth, The Hustler is one of the highlights of Paul Newman‘s career. The film is often ranked as one of the best films of its time, largely thanks to Newman’s excellent portrayal of the down beaten Felson. He was able to take one of the least likeable characters in cinema and make him palatable enough for you to root for him. His innate charm hooks you in, taking you on a ride full of highs and lows. Newman’s performance garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor – one of nine Academy Award nominations that the film received. Though he didn’t win the Best Actor award for his role in the film, he eventually went on to win an Oscar for The Color of Money in 1986.
To this day, The Hustler is hailed for being an excellent gambling film and a riveting tale about morality. All in all, The Hustler tackles inner conflict and the definition of male machismo succinctly and compellingly. On top of that, Sarah and Felson’s bleak love story makes for a tender counterbalance, reminding us that we’re all just looking for comfort in a world that can be a little too overwhelming at times.