Is it a case of the ‘Seinfeld is Unfunny’ trope – a work of media having lesser impact on an audience that’s seen works that draw from and imitate it, before the originating work itself – that THE HUSTLER failed to work much magic on me? I appreciate it being one of the relatively few films of this sort (Hollywood, sports-focused) where the pursuit of dreams and excellence is really discouraged in favour of surrender and a more grounded approach, but the film’s general arc feels haphazard to me, unduly switching between more focus on the sport and an undercooked relationship.
Still, the actual direction succeeds in making pool halls feel dangerous, threatening, dark churches to the ruthless machismo and ego-affirming of a competitive sport even as superficially unintensive as pool. Vices and the capitalist society are laid bare as empty parts of this world, but that all feels somewhat pat. Paul Newman certainly does good work with it though. Three cues, and a sequel twenty-five years later.