Paul Newman received his second Oscar nomination for playing “Fast” Eddie Felson in The Hustler (1961).
The Hustler is a terrific film. I disliked it the first time I watched it but this time round I found it to be incredibly well-made and directed. It’s a depressing and slow film for sure but for some reason it never becomes unbearable, and the overall atmosphere can really draw the viewers in. The film is stylishly-made, from the cinematography to the music, and the acting is brilliant all around. Jackie Gleason and George C. Scott give Oscar worthy performances, especially Gleason who would get my personal vote despite appearing only in the beginning and end. The only performance that I didn’t really like was Piper Laurie…found her to be mechanical and weird. Her character is strange and messed up for sure, and she does have some very good moments, but I couldn’t really buy her performance.
Paul Newman is a legend, and one of my favourite film actors of all time. The guy is a very definition of a movie star, right from his good looks and his incredible acting abilities. I really love his acting style and the way he brings out the complex layers behind the characters he plays.
Eddie Felson is one of Newman’s many iconic roles, and it’s easy to see why. The character is an incredibly difficult one to play, considering that he doesn’t change much throughout the film till the end. Another thing about the character is how unlikeable he really is. Actually, I found him incredibly annoying during the first game with Minnesota Fats, especially when he was yabbering on about wanting to win. Still, every Newman performance would have that distinctive charm of his that he uses to complement his acting. Even though I found Eddie to be really annoying at the beginning of the film, the smile he gives can really draw you in.
That being said, the strength behind this performance is the way Newman allows us to understand the mentality behind this character, and why he has this obsession with winning. We realise that he pretty much has nothing else in his life to live for, and how playing pool is everything to him. In one particular monologue, he vividly describes the difference between being good and being great – fantastic. The whole obsession never feels overplayed and comes across as natural and realistic.
There’s also this prevalent sadness and loneliness that’s hanging around the character throughout the film. His relationship with Sarah (Laurie) is a fascinating one. They’re both messed up, and yet they needed each other as well. All this makes the last scene even more poignant, when he realises how much he loved her.
I can’t even begin to describe how powerful and complex Newman’s performance is. Raw, powerful and fantastic. 5/5