As most people of my generation, I watched The Hustler because I first watched The Color of Money and wanted to know the back story of Paul Newman more. It was easy to write off another role in which Tom Cruise played someone cocky, no matter how much you admired him for wearing a shirt with his name on it. If you had to say, "How, can you annoy me as much as possible in a movie?" Being a cocky guy wearing a shirt with your name on it would probably be in the Top 3. It was one of those things that was so annoying, I ended up respecting him more for it, even though it probably wasn't his decision to wear that shirt. This is all based on my pet peeve of girls who wear their name on a necklace of course.
After rewatching The Hustler this time, I realized Cruise's performance was kind of an homage to Newman's in this one, so there's really no point in bashing it. It's just unfortunate that throughout the test of time this became Cruise's bread and butter, so the older movies of his kind of get ruined as time moves on.
Aside from Paul Newman's wonderful acting, The Hustler seemed a bit boring. Going into it, I was quite excited for the legendary showdown with Minnesota Fats, and this was pretty much the opening scene. The movie didn't quite peak again like that for me for the rest of the time. Strangely, this problem can make a movie quite rewatchable, because after a viewing or two, you no longer become concerned with things like "plot" and "suspense" and you start to see the movies intricacies, and that's the ultimate test for one who rewatches movies. There are two types of movie watcher, the rewatchers who love film, and the people who only see things once and judge it as is.
The latter is difficult to digest. This would make film (and let me throw in TV as well), the only form of art that doesn't get better with multiple viewings. A good song or album gets deeper the more you listen to it. A good piece of fiction or poetry has so much more going on than the plot or suspense that if you read it again, you pick up so much more and it gets better, though a book usually requires much more than a couple hours of your time so it's difficult to find the time. Paintings have so many hidden things, and so much history that the more you learn about one, the better it becomes which is absolutely essential, rather than just turning to Cousin Bobby and saying, "I sure like the shade of blue he used for the water." A film is not a good film because of a twist ending, a great action sequence, or a great piece of dialogue. It is great, because during a great suspenseful scene, you missed something because the flow of the film put your attention somewhere, while something completely different was going on somewhere else. It's great because while someone is defending their sexual preference by fighting a redneck at a 4th of July fireworks display, you can't really appreciate the cinematography because hell, there's a doings transpiring!
Now, bringing it all back to The Hustler. This is that kind of a movie. The plot isn't killer, and as I pointed out before, I find it quite anti-climatic, but once you accept this, you can watch the movie for what it is. An incredibly well-shot, dialogue driven piece about the seamy underworld of pool sharks. It may not make you want to play pool as let's stay Star Wars would make you want to get into a light-saber fight with a friend, but it makes you want to know the difference between what we greenhorns call "pool" and what the pro's know as "billiards." That's the sign of a classic. I'm proud to own this one, because now that I've seen it twice (and don't remember the first time), it's one I'm going to be able to go back to and find something unique about it every time.