Friday, August 17, 2012

The Color of Money: 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Revisiting one of his most memorable roles, Paul Newman stars as Fast Eddie Felson from The Hustler.   Years later, his story continues in The Color of Money, when Eddie forms a profitable alliance with a flashy and talented young pool shark named Vince (Cruise), but all bets are off when Vince’s arrogance costs them more than just a few matches.  Celebrate the 25th anniversary of this dazzling classic – now released on Blu-ray! This is the movie where legendary actor Paul Newman finally won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 1986. Newman joins Hollywood megastar Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) in Academy Award-winning Martin Scorsese’s (Best Director, 2006, The Departed) brilliant and powerful drama, The Color of Money – now available for the first time on Blu-ray. 

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

“Nine-Ball is rotation pool, the balls are pocketed in numbered order.  The only ball that means anything, that wins it, is the 9.  Now, the player can shoot eight trick shots in a row, blow the 9, and lose.   On the other hand, the player can get the 9 in on the break, if the balls spread right, and win.  Which is to say, that luck plays a part in nine-ball.  But for some players, luck itself is an art.”
And with that narration by Martin Scorsese opening the film, we jump back into the competitive world of pool and rejoin “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Neman) over twenty years after the events depicted in The Hustler.  During that long period of time, Eddie hasn’t played pool since being threatened from the first film to stay away from the sport for crossing Bert Gordon (George C. Scott).  Eddie took the threat seriously and has stayed away from the game for decades and became a liquor salesman.  Despite being a good salesman, Eddie isn’t happy which affects his personal life and his failure to commit to a relationship with a local bar owner named Janelle (Helen Shaver).
When Eddie notices the bar’s pool champ named Julian (John Turturro) get beaten several times in a short time by a newcomer called Vincent (Tom Cruise), he is immediately interested in the young man who is obviously a pool hustler.   Vincent is a fairly obnoxious young man whose gift at playing pool is only matched by his ego.  Vincent is a diamond in the rough and an unknown quantity to the other professional players which is even more attractive to Eddie whose own reputation prevented others from playing him.  Eddie offers to financially back Vincent but he quickly realizes that he will need to go through Vincent’s girlfriend/manager Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who spends most of her time either trying to manipulate Vincent or Eddie.
Once Eddie takes Vincent under his wing and starts to teach him the various ways to hustle people, Vincent has no problems playing, but struggles with the concept of not playing his best to lull his opponents into betting even more money.  Vincent understands the basic concept, but repeatedly ignores Eddie’s directions because his ego won’t allow him to lose.  When Eddie sets up Vincent to play the current champion player Grady Seasons (Keith McCready), he tells Vincent to lose so when it comes time for them to play each other in the official championship, Grady will be overconfident and lose.  When Vincent once again ignores his direction, Eddie severs their relationship and gives Carmen and Vincent money to go on the road on their own.
Eddie decides to start playing again himself and he works his way to the championship series, but not before being hustled himself by a young kid played by Forest Whitaker.  By the time Eddie reaches the championship, he learns that not only is Vincent and Carmen there, but that they had finally become the hustlers he trained them to be. Vincent has turned into a successful hustler in his own right and seeing his behavior makes Eddie change his ways. When the two inevitably play against each other, Vincent’s treachery (as taught to him by Eddie) finally makes Eddie realize that winning through hustling isn’t winning at all.  He refuses to take part in Vincent’s schemes to get rich and abandons his entire hustling philosophies  and instead challenges Vincent to play him to see who is the best player just like he did decades ago against Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleeson).
As much as I enjoyed The Color of Money, I prefer the first film more as I think it has a stronger story and it provided Paul Newman a beefier role to portray than this one.  I realize that Newman won a Best Actor Oscar for this movie but as good as he is in this, I think the win was more to correct a longstanding oversight by the Academy than for this performance.  Honestly, other than a few small touches like the character’s name, the sport, and his choice of alcoholic beverage (J.T.S. Brown whiskey), this could have been an entirely different movie.  The Fast Eddie Felson in this movie doesn’t seem to be the same person from The Hustler.  Eddie learned a lot of hard lessons in the first movie but those lesson have been long forgotten two decades later.  Paul Newman is fantastic in this movie but he might as well have been a completely different character.
Tom Cruise also does a nice job as the not so bright Vincent whose personality and fashion sense marks him as easy prey to other pool players.  They don’t realize like Eddie does, that despite Vincent’s shortcomings he is an incredible player and that Vincent could use that misconception to his advantage.  The most interesting aspect of this movie is watching the characters trade places.  Eddie initially has become just like Bert Gordon (the very thing he hated in his youth) but by the end of the movie, he rediscovers the joy of playing the game straight while Vincent goes the opposite way and embraces subterfuge.  Perhaps when Cruise is in his seventies, he will play an older Vincent  that has to learn the same lesson in a second sequel.  Mary Elizabeth Mastratonio and John Turturro  both do a nice turns in their supporting roles and this movie provides Mastratonio a tougher character than the kind she usually plays and she pulls it off well.  Make no mistake, this is Paul Newman’s movie and he proves what star power is even when paired with Tom Cruise.

Video (1 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is surprisingly bad considering it’s making it’s high definition debut on Blu-ray.  I’m not sure if this was just poorly transferred or if something happened, but this movie should look a lot better on Blu-ray than this.  In fact, this is the worst looking Martin Scorsese movie I’ve seen on Blu-ray.  The overall movie looks darker and more indistinct than it should even though much of the movie takes place in seedy pool halls.  There’s a ton of digital noise throughout the movie that’s pretty distracting when seen on large high definition televisions. Colors also fare poorly as the whole movie looks drab and colorless and black levels look washed out as well. There’s some minor detail present especially during closeups, but the rest of the transfer’s problems drag the whole presentation down.  I’ve never seen such a poor transfer for a movie of this caliber and I don’t know how Disney could have allowed it to be released like this.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)  

The Color of Money’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix fares much better than the film’s video quality.  While the majority of the film uses the front channels almost exclusively, there are some instances where the rest of the channels come to life such as the final tournament in Atlantic City.  At that point, all of the channels are used well and there’s a lot of excellent ambiance delivered by the rear speakers.  When the tournament starts and everyone “breaks” at the same time, I nearly jumped out of my chair because it caught me by surprise and I loved hearing the reverberations of it pass over me like a wave.  The dialogue is crisp and clean and easy to understand even during the busy pool tournament.

Extras (0 out of 5 stars) 

This is another release that’s being touted as an “Anniversary Edition” but it actually offers none of the extras that you’d expect to find.  I think studios should be ashamed of using that marketing gimmick when they have no intention of making it a special release.  How hard would it have been to add some archival interviews, a director’s commentary, and more?  This film was nominated for four Academy Awards and won one so it’s not like it’s some flop that doesn’t merit some extras.  Come on people, you can do better than this!

Summary (2 out of 5 stars) 

I’ve always liked Paul Newman and I was glad to finally see this movie which I had missed up till now.  I don’t think it’s as good as The Hustler, but it’s enjoyable and it’s always good to see Newman in films.  I think he should have gotten his Oscar for The Verdict instead of this, but I’m glad he got one in any case.  Newman is surrounded by excellent supporting performances and it’s interesting to see Tom Cruise in a different role than he usually plays.  He still cocky in this like usual, but he’s also not too bright and fairly obnoxious which Cruise to his credit embraces unafraid to look like a loser in this.  It’s a shame that this Blu-ray release lets them down with its poor video quality and lack of extras, but it’s still nice to have it on Blu-ray.  Maybe they will release a top notch 30th Anniversary Edition down the road.
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