Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. Today, I will be reviewing the 1986 Martin Scorsese film THE COLOR OF MONEY.

The Color of Money is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese and follows the story of a retired pool (i.e., billiards) hustler who finds a highly talented young player to mentor in an effort to make them both lots of money on games. The film stars Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. I left this film feeling exceedingly impressed with the project, wondering why this remains the only Tom Cruise/Martin Scorsese collaboration, and wondering why this film is not talked about more frequently.

The first, and most important, positive aspect of this film are the performances by the two lead actors. This film is predominantly Paul Newman’s story overall (although it feels framed around Tom Cruise at times) and he absolutely brings all of the talent Paul Newman has to offer to this role. He has great subtlety, stoicism, and, when he encounters his emotionally trying moment toward the end of the film, emotional range. He also feels, much like his character, like he is taking a young Tom Cruise under his wing and it is clear that paid dividends for both of them. This was the role that Paul Newman won his first (and only non-honorary) Academy Award for after being nominated for acting six previous times. Although he probably should have taken home the statue earlier, this was a well-deserved victory.

Tom Cruise is in a very different place in this film and much different from where we know him today. He was young but was shedding his Risky Business teen heartthrob days and had just made the wildly successful film Top Gun. In many ways, Scorsese directing an actor at this stage in their career is something he had done with the likes of Robert DeNiro and would do, almost exactly, with Leonardo DiCaprio some years later. Cruise performs well in this role and is very magnetic throughout the film. He has a charisma and pizazz that is exciting and makes this film even more enjoyable to watch. What perplexes me is how (or why) Scorsese or Cruise didn’t latch on to each other (or even do another project together). I saw benefits in this early performance from Scorsese’s direction and, though Cruise would go on to work with almost every great director of our time, I have to wonder what he could have been if he had been Scorsese’s muse between the DeNiro and DiCaprio days.

Another thing this film does extremely well is making the pool believable and look really exciting. I could see the actors having some ability to execute shots and the way Scorsese edited it together made it even more believable. I also think that Scorsese did a great job with balancing how much to show or not show of the actual competition. He montages or cuts to players talking rather than showing every shot which makes every shot he does show that much more engrossing and important.

The last major positive in this film is use of shooting locations and production design to help show the audience the story. They do provide some expositional dialogue, but most of the rise in the ranks our characters go through is entirely shown through the quality of their surroundings, whether it is a rundown club or a fancy pool room. This really made the storytelling that much more engaging and effective. I also found that the note this film ends on was superb, making you want more but feeling totally satisfied with the story it told.

I have very few negatives with the film, but they are there. For starters, the characters could be grating at times. At the beginning, Cruise is shown as extremely immature (and even shows this somewhat at the end) and that is often shown through him throwing out of character tantrums. This made the film harder to get through and was something I could have done without. Additionally, the film has some majorly cheesy moments. Especially one with a character coming to a realization after catching their reflection in a pool ball. It just felt really over the top in a story that didn’t call for that and that didn’t mesh with that.

Overall, I think The Color of Money is somewhat underrated and certainly under-discussed. It is an incredibly strong film, and actors showcase, that has a lot of great 80s and Scorsese flair. A definite must see.

Ryan’s Score: 8/10

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