|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 29 March 2005|
Watching "Hu$tle" is a lot like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion. It's inevitable. No matter what, it's going to occur and nothing will ever be the same again. This DVD review strikes a familiar chord for all of us who grew up watching Pete Rose play baseball. There was nobody who gave more passion and drive on the baseball field than "Charlie Hustle," as Rose was called by his peers and the press. And in his fall from grace, there remains no one quite so tragic.
When "Hu$tle" opens up, Pete Rose is already past his prime, no longer playing baseball but still coaching the game. Unfortunately, that's not enough. Rose misses the adrenaline of the game, the competition of pitting himself and his skills against other players and other teams.
The DVD starts with Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" throbbing through the surround sound system in Chapter 1. The music backs a montage of Rose at his best, brassy and bold and indomitable. Rose ages in seconds, moving from the young athlete to the player who eventually stepped down and left the game. In the gym in October 1986, everybody seems to recognize and like Rose, calling out to him as he passes through the machines. Rose greets them back, just like he’s one of the guys. The sign on the windows proclaims the gym to be the home of Pete Rose.
In short order, Rose meets Paul Janszen, who takes on a pivotal role in his downfall. After a brief transaction shot through with jokes, Rose sells the gym owner his Beemer for $75,000, but we can't help but suspect that Rose has something up his sleeve. The music picks up again, kicking the surround sound system to vibrant life as Rose gathers his cronies at his huge house to watch the games. Rose watches several games simultaneously on different television sets. Gio, his current buddy who’s a coke dealer, places bets over the phone. It isn't until later that the viewer learns the bets are placed on Rose's behalf.
All the while, Rose is managing the Cincinnati Reds and keeping his gambling addiction hidden. He holds himself above everyone and everything else. As Rose and new pal Paulie talk, getting to know each other, we learn that Paulie has some not-so-honest sidelines.
In Chapter 2, Rose quickly moves Paulie into the forefront of his relationship. Gio, the last man Rose used, gets short shrift, illustrating how quickly this movie version of the ballplayer uses and loses people. He's also shown going on signing junkets where he got thousands of dollars for autographs and other memorabilia. Rose doesn’t claim the income and uses it to pay off his gambling debts. Rose’s wife Carol is also shown struggling with the marriage and her husband's addiction.
In the movie, Rose mentions that his father used to take him to the horse races but didn't have the money to place bets. Chapter 3 opens up with the thundering hoof beats of the horses at the track exploding through the subwoofer. During the race, he cements his friendship with Paulie as they and their posse win a quarter million dollars. Gio goes to collect the money, so it never shows up as going through Rose's fingers.
Spring training and baseball, although a little late for what a lot of watchers might want or hope for, takes center stage in Chapter 4. Again, Rose is portrayed as a hustler, yet someone who truly loves baseball. When one of the players has a personal problem, Rose allows the man to take necessary time off to deal with his daughter's surgery. Gio is cut off from Rose's friendship and Paulie is introduced to the bookies. Paulie is also told he is going to have to take responsibility for Rose's bets. By Chapter 5, Rose's luck has turned sour and Paulie receives threatening phone calls from bookies wanting their money.
From this point on, we can see the stress Paulie is under. To a degree, the way the movie divides between Paulie’s and Rose's stories is uneven. For a time, the focus is solely on Paulie, illuminating all the stress he is under from the bookies as well as the way Rose froze him out of the friendship as well as his finances.
Eventually, the gambling story comes out after the FBI closes in on Paulie. Even then, he appears ready to stand by Rose and defend the man, but he simply doesn't have enough money to protect himself. Slowly and surely, the FBI builds its case against Paulie and the bookies, working their way right up the line until they reach Rose. None of the legal entanglements are really talked about in the course of the movie. No court appearances are documented. Instead, the focus remains on Rose's relationship with baseball, and what baseball is going to make of Rose. For diehard fans, the outcome is a piece of the history of the game.
The extras included on the DVD are slim, but they are gripping. Watching the interviews with Rose and the other people involved in the scandal carries a lot of emotional impact. Here is a man who risked everything he'd built in his career for momentary excitement. Rose mentions in the film that he can't watch a game without having something on it. However, whether Rose's gambling habits were purely bad choices or an addiction is never verified by either the storyline or the ex-baseball player. Rose felt that his gambling ways weren't an addiction; they were just a bit of recreation that wasn't exactly legal or in good form. One of the interesting aspects of the interviews shows Paulie Janszen talking about himself in the third person, as so many sports figures do. Even Janszen stepped up his game when he received national attention.
Although "Hu$tle" is a thin movie to a degree, and one where the outcome is probably known everywhere, the story of the fall of Pete Rose's legacy is compelling. Tom Sizemore, who also has his own legal troubles these days stemming from his own need for driving passion, delivers a stand-up performance that really seems to capture the essence of Rose during those dark days. For baseball fans and for Pete Rose, this DVD might hurt, but it's intensely watchable.