Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Best Actor 1961: Paul Newman in The Hustler

Paul Newman received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler.

The Hustler is a very interesting film that shows the underworld of sorts that the pool hustler lives in.

Fast Eddie first begins in the film with his mentor Charlie (Myron McCormick) in a quick hustle at a small bar. In this short early scene, Newman is good at putting the act of the hustle, and shows instantly that Fast Eddie is a pretty slick costumer who knows his trade. I really like this early scene. I like how he at first shows Eddie as the over reactive kid as he creates the condition for the hustle, than leads up to just his smile before he pulls the trick is perfect. That smile shows Eddie knows exactly what he is doing and Newman uses his trademark charisma to amplify Eddie joy of the hustle to perfect effect.

Eddie though goes to play pool with the ultimate pool player Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), for a prolonged night of gambling and playing. Newman's performance in this scene is excellent, because he starts out as the fully charismatic Newman who is eager to play against the great Fats. Newman perfectly displays his eagerness and passion he puts into this ultimate game and hustle. What is truly great about this scene though is his slow degradation over the night, and day of playing. Newman carefully drains himself of his charisma, and slowly loses his control over the game and himself into he basically becomes an emotional and physical mess until he loses the final game.

After he loses the hustle in the end Fast Eddie really falls flat, and Newman shows a loss in charisma which properly connects with Eddie's complete loss in confidence. Eddie down on his luck meets also a woman Sarah (Piper Laurie) who never has really had any luck. This relationship is pivotal to the film, and it is an interesting complex one. It is interesting because it is not a big lover affair, but rather a meeting of two troubled souls that is not actually always warm. Newman though and Laurie find the right charisma not of a loving relationship, but one that does have connection even if very cold at times.

Newman is strong in these scenes because he really shows that Eddie is not at all a perfect guy, in fact a very much troubled man. He is properly cold with Laurie, and his anger is well founded suggesting that Eddie really is not  a stable man, and that Hustling attempts to bring himself a respect of sorts. Now equally fantastic though is the love he does show to Laurie's Sarah. Newman projects this love, in the right the right almost cold and a somewhat resistant fashion that is always completely natural.

Eddie has a rough path to being himself up again, that is tortured. It is interesting because Newman shows Eddie's attempts than failures not as something that just happens but weaknesses in his personality. Eddie though learns from each of his failures, but Newman carefully displays that he does not learn everything or enough each time. For example his quiet talk with Laurie after being beaten for hustling, is a quiet poignant moment by Newman, but astutely portrayed because he still shows Eddie to not be entirely aware of himself.

Eddie's final tragic failure leads himself back to play Minnesota Fats once again. This is a spectacular scene. It is a quick change but an effective and believable one that Eddie has found his ground and confidence, not of true understanding himself, but brought about by passionate hatred and sadness. Now this is not really said, but I feel Newman does without fault show this change in Eddie. His final scene is outstanding as he finally does have control over himself, and over the pool table. This top he wins the hustle, and this was what the film was leading to, and Newman came to this conclusion brilliantly. Overall a very strong performance from Newman that creates a very interesting and incredibly memorable character.

3 comments:

dshultz said...

I'm hoping for a double win for Newman! Like Stuart Whitman, he could have played his character one key and very uninteresting, but he created a character, and a damn memorable one at that!

dinasztie said...

He was a brilliant actor. He always gave brilliant performances.

Sage Slowdive said...

Yes, after seeing Whitman, it'll be hard to choose.