The Hustler (1961)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Hustler</strong> (1961)

(On Cable TV, February 2018)  As I go through the classic-film catalogue, some of them hit and some of them miss … and The Hustler does feel like a perceptible miss. Part of it has to do with my near-complete lack of interest in pool—given that the film has lengthy sequences of pure pool play, which may explain my difficulty connecting to the film. Of course, there is a lot more to The Hustler than pool—its central sport is almost irrelevant to its portrait of an incredibly ambitious protagonist, someone who has to confront a loss in the pursuit of victory. There’s a lot of drama along the way to a glum conclusion, but it feels as if The Hustler is simply too long for what it has to say. Paul Newman is very good, of course, and Jackie Gleason is also remarkable as “Minnesota Fats” while Piper Laurie is the film’s emotional centre. Even if film historians have a lot of praise for what the film brought to the table in the early sixties (it almost feels like a 1970s film at times), much of what The Hustler has to say has become well-worn territory, including its grim and realistic approach to character-driven drama. It still plays like a mature drama, but it can feel dull and exceptionally long at times.

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