When a brash young pool shark is handed a lesson in humility by the accepted best in the business, he teams up with an amoral gambler to challenge for a rematch.
The Hustler is to pool what Raging Bull was to boxing and it is clear that Scorsese was influenced by this film when he made it – in fact Jake LaMotta, the subject of Raging Bull, even appears in a small role. It’s a story of emptiness in victory, as Fast Eddie learns that pride and self respect are not the same thing. His clashes with his financial backer – brilliantly played by George C. Scott – are by far the best parts of the film as he realises that a relentless pursuit of the win removes all the joy from and appreciation for the game he loves. It’s beautifully shot, perfectly played and intelligently written but I’d have to say the unremittingly dour and earnest approach makes it rather hard going to the point that by the end I wanted to open a couple of veins myself.
The Hustler may be technically flawless but it’s also about as much fun as sitting through a tax audit at a funeral.