It wouldn’t be like Martin Scorsese to pick up the tabs on a simple sequel, and this glossy, hard-spoken pool drama, a follow-on from The Hustler, never aligns to the simple organising principle of repeat value. This is an original film based around an old character in Paul Newman’s rusted former pool-hustler, who can still think it, but has drunk away most of his table tricks. Scorsese, very much a fan of Robert Rossen’s grabby energy in the original, is after a relationship movie, a father-son style conflict, and divides his attention between Eddie’s cantankerous weariness, and Vincent’s loose grin and youthful spite, echoing the vim of Eddie of old.
There are the traits of a road movie in the film’s drift from pool hall to hall, and stabs of the sports genre as Newman plays coach to the puckish skills of Cruise (who does much of the ball blitzing himself). It has a measured spirit, shot to the lurid colour schemes of these tobacco stained second-floor hollows with their spectrum of clicking, gleaming balls. Scorsese, with his furtive camera, is not after a wholly real world, but a movie slanted one where emotions ping and slice like their tabletop equivalent.
Newman, somehow inevitably, was awarded an Oscar for this firebrand turned to smouldering with age, oily and suspect in demeanour, but still staunch enough to spark into rage at his protégé’s bullish stupidity. It is often forgotten, in the face of his blockbustering excesses, how Cruise matches the old master. He’s alive with thrusting youth, naïve but strong and equally as fiery as this imposing guru. The sight of Cruise’s Vincent twirling his pool cue like a strutting Samurai to the howling joys of Warren Zevon’s Werewolves Of London has the excitable appeal of talent’s doltish requirement to reveal itself. Something of little use to a hustler.
Between them resides Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s Carmen, the girlfriend and manager of Vincent. Played with tough control, she’s got the measure of Eddie, but they share an understanding of Vincent.
Swirling with crunching, hard-balling dialogue by novelist Richard Price, the film finally is Eddie’s journey, his casting-off of former glories, and rejuvenation of inner spirit. You’re never too old Scorsese grins, but you could be too young.