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What's the story?
"Fast" Eddie Felsen (Paul Newman) is a pool hustler. He and his partner, Charlie, go into pool halls and set the local players up. Eddie's dream is to beat the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), so he challenges him to a contest. After more than 24 hours, Eddie realizes he can't win. He leaves Charlie the money and the car, and goes off on his own. Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), an alcoholic, and moves in with her. Eddie struggles with his identity in more than a few ways, but grows closer to Sarah. He teams up with gambler Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), who sets up a game with a rich man. In a mirror image of the game with Fats, Eddie loses at first, and then, defying Sarah's appeal to quit, persists, and wins $12,000. In the tug-of-war for Eddie, Bert has won, and Sarah commits suicide. In a new frame of mind, Eddie decides to challenge Fats to a game again.
Is it any good?
Despite the seedy settings (so evocative that they are almost a character in the story), this is almost a traditional morality play about humility and redemption. In the beginning Eddie is, as Fats notes, as fast as his nickname, slick, cocky, superficial. He wants to win for the kick of it. But inside him, there is someone who wants to win for the beauty of the game, and the honor of doing something surpassingly well. But before he can be a real winner, he must get rid of the part of himself that wants to lose, that is afraid to take a real risk. For that, he has to experience real loss, especially the loss of Sarah.
As Nietzsche said, "That which does not defeat me makes me stronger." Eddie is strengthened so by these experiences and by what he has learned, that he can no longer be contained by what had once been his entire world. Bert's threat that he will no longer be able to play big-time pool is meaningless to him. Even if Bert had offered him a 50-50 deal, he would not have taken it. That world is too small and self- contained for him now.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the characters in this movie have different ideas about what makes someone a winner or a loser. What are those ideas? How do they fit with others you have heard about, or with your own? What made Eddie different between his two games with Fats? Why didn't Sarah want Eddie to keep playing Findlay? How do Sarah and Bert represent two different parts of Eddie that fight with each other?
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