Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Disney, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 4.1 [CC], French Digital Stereo, subtitles: none, single side-dual layer, chapters, rated R, 118 min., $29.99, street date 3/14/2000.
Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Mary Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver.
Legendary actor Paul Newman and Academy Award Nominee Tom Cruise (Best Actor, 1996, Jerry Maguire) ignite the screen in this powerful drama. Brilliantly drected by Martin Scorsese, Newman re-creates one of his most memorable roles from The Hustler. As Fast Eddie Felson, he still believes that "money won is twice as sweet as money earned." To prove his point, he forms a profitable, yet volatile, partnership with Vince (Cruise), a young pool hustler with a sexy, tough-talking girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). But when Vince's flashy arrogance leads to more than a few lost matches - all bets are off between Eddie and him. The Color Of Money will electrify you with its suspenseful story, dazzling cinematography and dynamic performances.
Within every famous director's oeuvre, there are always some films that end up in the semi-forgotten pile. What's unusual about some of them, however, is that a few of the less-remembered movies were actually quite successful during their theatrical releases.
Take Spielberg's Hook, for example; it was a hit, but it was clearly relegated to his "B"-list years ago. The same goes for Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money. This 1986 movie - a long-belated sequel to 1961's The Hustler - was actually Scorsese's biggest hit of the decade and actually marked a return to form for him after two duds (1983's The King of Comedy and 1985's After Hours). It did relatively well at the box office and with critics, plus it finally netted star Paul Newman an Oscar for Best Actor. It gave pretty boy Tom Cruise some credibility to work with such established talents in his role as hot-shot pool player Vincent Lauria, and it brought Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio to prominence with her turn as Vincent's cynical girlfriend Carmen. What's not to like?
Quite a lot, actually. I must admit that I used to really like The Color of Money. I thought it was a fast-paced, arrogant and exciting piece about a long-time loser's redemption, and I found it to be thoroughly entertaining.
However, that was a long time ago. I don't think I'd seen TCOM since the Eighties, and the movie has not aged well. This film presents a time capsule-worthy document of what films were like in that decade; virtually everything about if shouts "Eighties." While Scorsese uses the same techniques that always served him well - the soundtrack packed with rock songs, the swooping camera moves - never have they seemed as artificial and superficial as they do here; it looks more like the work of a Scorsese-wannabe than from the man himself.
TCOM seems packed with Eighties go-go spirit, which seems like an inappropriate tone for the continuing story of Eddie Felson. The original had a much darker, more morose tone than this rather peppy affair. Oh, we see Eddie go through some crises of confidence, but for the most part, this is the happy version of The Hustler: Eddie gets the girl and his self-respect.
I guess after so many films with self-defeating protagonists, Scorsese wanted to actually leave the audience cheering for once, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, it's just the superficial nature of the film that wears on me. Newman's perfectly adequate in the movie, but it's clear he got his Academy Award more as a recognition of his body of work than for his performance here; this Eddie's not got a lot of depth.
Cruise may have hoped this role would show his versatility, but instead we just got classic Tom. He flashes that all-star grin of his a lot, and gets to act cocky even more; other than that, he lacks any substance as Vincent. Mastrantonio helps bring a little depth to Carmen - the only character who really displays any kind of layered personality, really - but this doesn't help much.
I can't really blame the actors for shallow portrayals, though, because there's only so much they can do with the script and the story. This tale doesn't relate to broken-down old Eddie Felson, a once-hot pool player who's reduced to selling off-brand liquor (which bars sell as similar-tasting - but more expensive - name brands), because it never lets us see him as anything other than a winner. Personally, I'd think it should seem sad that Eddie's stuck with this fate, but we're never allowed to view him that way; even as a booze-peddler, we're convincingly told that Eddie's "the best." (When Carmen gently taunts him about his job and asks if he's the best liquor salesman, Eddie defiantly replies, "You betcha!" and cranks the radio. Right on, Eddie - you sell that bootleg hooch!)
Even Scorsese's usually-impeccable choice of music fails in The Color of Money. The Powers That Be at Touchstone must have leaned on Marty to get some tracks with hit potential into the mix, because we largely hear slick Eighties pseudo-blues songs. Most dominant is Eric Clapton's thin and glib semi-hit "It's In the Way That You Use It". Sorry, but I have a hard time believing that a pop tune like this would receive much play in some seedy pool halls, at least it's a positive song - can't have any actual blues in an upbeat movie like this!
All this "we're number one" spirit played well back in the Eighties, but it seems overblown and artificial now. The Color of Money remains a marginally entertaining film on a superficial level, but I find it to be a big disappointment and a lost opportunity.
The Color of Money appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the DVD does a pretty good job of rendering a difficult subject - all those smoky interiors - it has a few flaws that keep it on a "B" level.
Sharpness consistently looks quite good; some edge enhancement results in a few examples of moiré effects (those pool halls have blinds, which cause some problems) but for the most part, the image seems crisp and well-defined. Print quality appears decent, though the frequent low-light scenes result in a fair amount of grain. I also noted occasional nicks or speckles, but nothing too significant.
The film utilizes a subdued palette - again, all those dark interiors don't lend themselves to bright colors - but what we see looks pretty accurate; at least the hues of the balls and the green of the tables seem fine. Black levels are decent, but shadow detail is flawed; even allowing for the requisite darkness in the interiors, they still seem a bit overly dim. Still, I found the movie to offer a generally satisfying image.
Much less pleasing is The Color of Money's obnoxious Dolby Digital 4.1 soundtrack. On the positive side: the front soundstage appears fairly broad and nicely-spaced, with sounds placed appropriately. Dialogue can seem a bit flat, and there's some genuinely bad dubbing, but for the most part, speech appears clear and relatively natural. At times, the music offers some decent low-end as well, and effects are acceptably crisp and realistic.
The soundtrack's main problem comes from both the use and the quality of the surrounds. Put simply, they sound terrible, and they're usually too loud. There's an annoying delay between the front and the rear, so virtually everything that comes from the surrounds seems too late; some sort of electronic reverberation also appears present, so the audio from the rears sounds thin and artificial. The audio balance seems poor, so the music often drowns out the dialogue. Normally I enjoy active soundtracks, but this one appears terribly inappropriately so, and it's one of the few times I can recall a modern audio mix that really harms the film.
I can't criticize the quality of the DVD's supplements because there aren't any. No trailer, no production notes, no booklet - no nothin'! No good!
Well, at least that simplifies my job, since it means there's no compelling reason for me to recommend this DVD. (Something cool like a nice documentary or a Scorsese audio commentary might have made it appealing.) The movie seems tremendously dated, and while it offers a few visceral pleasures, its almost complete lack of substance renders it impotent. The DVD presents a decent picture but the sound is surprisingly bad and no supplements appear. I used to really like The Color of Money, so it's hard for me to say this, but you should skip this DVD - it's not even worth a rental.