"I've got half of me that says I found the best thing I've ever seen and the other half that says it ain't worth it."
So when a director crafts one great film after another to the point that they are not only regarded as a great filmmaker but a consistently amazing director there comes a point where you have to raise the standards of what you expect from them. By 1986, ten years after he directed the masterpiece of ‘Taxi Driver’ Martin Scorsese did something he had never done before, he made a sequel.
‘The Colour of Money’ is a follow up to the 1959 film ‘The Hustler’ with Paul Newman reprising his role as Eddie Felson from the previous film. The film begins at a point more than 25 years after the events of the previous film, with Eddie retired from the pool circuit. He comes across a young protégé named Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) and decides to mentor him and help make some serious money.
On the one hand I think that if ‘The Colour of Money’ was made by any other director I would be more accepting or it and view it in a more favourable light. But then again there are enough subjective faults with it to turn it into a lacklustre sequel regardless, either this should be seen in comparison to Scorsese’s other masterpieces like ‘Raging Bull’ and ‘After Hours’ or view it next to a classic like ‘The Hustler’ of which it is a direct sequel to.
It’s ironic because today directors have to fight tooth and nail for creative control in the world of franchises and established properties and that seems to be a pitfall of Scorsese here. His first sequel seems to tone down the dramatic themes and complex relations that had permeated almost every other film he had made beforehand and simply crafted a less interesting and much shallower film.
Firstly the characters themselves are treated as accessories to the plot and not the main focus of the story. This may be an inherent problem with making a sequel to a film that was already perfectly fine on its own. When the film starts Paul Newman’s character has nowhere to go, not wanting to damage the legacy of the old film means ‘The Colour of Money’ can’t tread any new ground with the character and that makes his inclusion here feel somewhat pointless. That being said, Newman’s performance is a subtle but deeply interesting one. With a few exceptions Scorsese knows how to treat each individual actor when directing his films, here he keeps his camera focussed tightly on Newman’s face to catch every detailed expression that allows the viewer to analyse and ponder over his true motivations. It is interesting to know that it was Newman who picked Scorsese as the director of the film and he chose well from a certain standpoint as it was Martin’s (because we’re totally on a first name basis) direction that highlight’s Newman’s performance that would ultimately win him an Oscar. But in the long run that might be a weakness, as when compared to the rest of his filmography ‘The Colour of Money’ pales in comparison.
Some of the character dynamics are intriguing put rarely result in a satisfying pay off. Eddie plays manipulative mind games with Vincent and those closest to him in an attempt to undermine his self-confidence and make him more susceptible to his grooming, but this rivalry is never fully explored and seems like more of a quick method to move the plot forward, in fact so many of the characters decisions and actions seem forced and contrived in favour of pushing the plot along instead of actually examining any more complex themes.
This is not necessarily a major pitfall but not only is the story itself dominant over the characters but the story in question is assembled by the usual Hollywood formula. It is ridiculed by clichés and tired tropes. You would think that if anyone could turn those clichés into an interesting character study it would be Scorsese but here his artistic sensibilities seem to be limited in favour of creating a more commercially acceptable film. He has some interesting lighting techniques and decent uses of close ups that focus on the faces of his actors (a trick the director has given credit to ‘Black Narcissus’ as a primary influence over). Back to the plot though, not only does it feel simplistic and formulaic but it is predictable and we can foresee the characters decisions and actions long before they ever arrive. Even Tom Cruise’s performance risks being unmemorable due to how formulaic it is, by no means could it be labelled as a bad performance but Cruise doesn’t really take the rebellious student type in a new direction or explore it in any new way.
Stylish and suave but ultimately formulaic and predictable, which is disappointing for a director of Scorsese’s calibre.