Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) is a pool player with a good eye and a sweet stroke, but he hasn't any idea how to make his game pay off for him on the hustle. When Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) finds him, Vincent's game and his heart are both so pure that after cleaning Eddie's top boy, he offers to continue playing "for fun." Vincent has a lot to learn, as Fast Eddie is the first to tell him. "You couldn't find big time if you had a road map," Eddie says. The Color of Money is meant to be that road map, a journey toward some higher understanding of what life is all about. "It ain't about pool," Fast Eddie says to his young protègè. "It's about money."
The question is, what is this movie about, other than about 30 minutes too long? Director Martin Scorsese has said, "The movie is about a deception and then a clarity, a perversion and then a purity." Uh-huh. Six years ago Scorsese made Raging Bull, a brilliant boxing movie that wasn't really about boxing. In The Color of Money he has made a pool movie that isn't really about anything, or at least anything that the audience is able to figure out. Scorsese resorts to gimmickry—moving his camera in and out, presumably to simulate the motion of a pool cue—when the story breaks down during the movie's tedious midsection.
The film takes Newman's predatory Fast Eddie Felson, introduced 25 years ago in The Hustler, and attempts to relocate him in the emotionally ambiguous precincts of middle age—Not So Fast Eddie. In his dotage, Felson invests in hot young players for a share of their winnings, and in Vincent he presumably sees something of what he once was. The problem is that screenwriter Richard Price has turned Felson into a sort of amoral Yoda figure, dispensing fortune-cookie wisdom ("Money won is better than money earned, and sometimes it pays off to dump") from a moral swamp.
Cruise plays Vincent as such an airhead that for most of The Color of Money you wonder why Felson would bother to take him on. He shouldn't have, and neither should you.