More or less a sequel to THE HUSTLER, the 1961 pool film with Paul Newman, with Newman reprising his role decades later here, as a mentor figure to Tom Cruise’s up-and-coming character. This comes early in Scorsese’s career, back when more commercial films (like BOXCAR BERTHA) were a necessity for him to continue making films closer to his heart, but there are still some interesting ideas at play here in terms of the social and mental conflicts drawn through game theory, as well as passion and nebulous ‘honour’ versus pragmatism.
Scorsese is very adept at finding creative ways to film it all as well, most notably in a sequence framing a pool tournament as a kind of religion, a literal church, for Newman’s character. Cruise is a barrel of kinetic fun, his dweeby samurai theatrics as he dances around with a pool cue are hilarious. Newman gets the nuance of swapping contradictory and disarming information to manipulate others into feeling unsure and not at the top of their game, the crux of the actual games of gambling. For all that, it never really coheres into something that feels particularly purposeful. The character setups repeat with too little variation. But it’s an interesting entry in Scorsese’s early career nonetheless. Three pool balls, and a broken cue.