Twenty-five years later and Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman), the once great pool hall prodigy, is now a liquor salesman in Chicago. Although he has lost his love for the game, the thrill of making money is still there. He recognizes real talent in the pool game of Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise), a hotshot kid who works as a clerk in a toy store. He has a street-smart girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who is hungry for the good life. Eddie sees his chance to make a bundle off these two.
The idea is to hit the road for six weeks in a tour of pool halls and wind up in Atlantic City for the 9-Ball classic, a championship tournament. Eddie volunteers to bankroll the venture and teach Vincent, whom he calls a "thoroughbred," the tricks of the pool-hustling trade.
Vincent's problem is twofold: he doesn't like to lose games in order to increase betting odds against him, and winning is more important than anything else. Midway through the trip, Eddie realizes that he has given his young protégé all he has to offer. And after losing to a black pool shark (brilliantly depicted by Forest Whitaker), the once-great hustler sees that getting back in the game himself for the pure poetry of it is the best way of regaining his self-respect.
Richard Price's tight, tough, and tense screenplay is a gem. Paul Newman's intelligent performance as Fast Eddie blends just the right mix of coolness, frustration, calculation, fear, cynicism, and ambition.
Director Martin Scorsese's edgy style, always nervous and impressionistic, is ideally suited for this pool hall world of motels, back rooms, and cheap eateries. He draws out a fine performance from Tom Cruise as the cocky, competitive kid: Cruise depicts a wider range of emotional expression here than he has in his previous acting. And Mary Elizabeth is a delight as Carmen, his sexy girlfriend who provides inspiration and incentive to Vincent.
In one of the best lines in the movie, Eddie says "Money won is twice as sweet as money earned." However, on the road he learns that his best "investment in excellence" is not Vincent but himself. As in Raging Bull, Scorsese takes his main character to the pits to experience defeat and humiliation. And only after hitting bottom can Eddie rediscover the love of the game and find the key to renewing his life. The Color of Money shines as a stirring movie about starting out as a young Turk and starting over as a man born again.