Throwback Review: The Color of Money

The Color of Money posterSecond in a series of “throwback” posts.  This review was written in 1987, when the author was 18 years old, working at the YMCA as a Latchkey Counselor, and watching two or three movies every night.  All awkwardness preserved.

This is the first Scorsese movie I ever watched, and I went nuts. It’s atypical of his usual work: it’s not set in New York, nobody dies, and other critics aren’t raving about how “important” it is. Still, it has a style that no other film does. The camera is a character itself – the photography in this film is flamboyant. Colors pop out of the screen – it makes other movies look drab.

Paul Newman updates his role of “Fast Eddie” from The Hustler, wizened with age, and Tom Cruise plays the cocky new kid. Their acting styles reflect their characters – Newman is a pro who does more with less, and Cruise plays it to the point of recklessness. It works. Nothing much happens in the film, but you’re never bored. They play pool, they argue, and they play more pool. They ignore their girlfriends. It’s a mood piece. If there is a theme, it’s carried by Newman’s rebirth and not-quite triumph. Maybe Scorsese is saying it’s enough to just keep getting back into the ring and giving things your best shot.

I was struck by the music in this film. Every song contributes to the mood of the scene it’s used in. One spectacular moment occurs about halfway through, and it’s just an image supported by music. You hear an organ and a choir and see an eye doctor’s apparatus, with all of those dials and lenses, placed in front of Newman’s somber face. It’s amazing because of how it looks, and because of how it sounds. It makes you think – there’s no dialogue to tell you what it means. I found myself laughing. It wasn’t so much that the picture was funny (although it was, in a way) but that the director would have the audacity to do it in the first place. This is the kind of movie that makes me know I shouldn’t direct movies – I’ll never be that good.

November 17, 1987