There are few modern sports tragedies than that of Pete Rose. The all-time career leader for hits, Rose was later banned by Major League Baseball, preventing him from participating in League-sanctioned events, being elected into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and from benefiting from lucrative licensing deals connected directly to the game. But one shouldn’t feel too bad for Rose. He made some bad choices. His addiction to gambling led to his not only betting on professional sports, but baseball. And this was when he was still directly involved in the sport as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
Since his ban some two decades ago, Rose has kept himself in the spotlight, writing books and slowly coming clean and finally admitting to his wrongdoings. Peter Bogdanovich’s made-for-TV Hu$tle explores the downward spiral of Rose as his gambling hobby became a sickness. The opening credits heed a warning that while the events of the film are based in truth, much drama had been added. While this is the case with any film, it was a reminder to simply look at Hu$tle for what it was – a dramatization of Rose’s descent from one perspective and not the definitive story.
That probably explains Tom Sizemore’s take as the hits king known as Charlie Hustle for his hard play. The performance can best be summed up as Al Pacino by way of Moe from The Three Stooges. It certainly emphasizes the sleaze in Rose and it’s also somewhat distracting. But, for good or bad, it’s also the only really memorable thing about the film.
Hustle provides a very static look at the events that led up to Rose’s banning. The plot holds little drama, even as the ultimate conclusion is public knowledge. Rather, it’s more a stringing together of events that show Rose and his partners get progressively more desperate as the money runs low, spouses get fed up and the Feds themselves get involved. It’s a seedy story that could have been filled with tremendous drama given a deeper script. What it does is more or less the lengths that Rose went to place his bets and establish a more upscale underworld in which he resided. Really, after the third bet, what’s the purpose of seeing more bets placed. The point’s been made. Move on.
With Rose still not admitting to his gambling on baseball when Hu$tle was filmed, it’s not told from his perspective. Instead it’s focused on Rose’s flunky Paulie (Dash Mihok), who placed many of Rose’s bets for him. Paulie isn’t presented as anyone interesting other than being a man-groupie steroid dealer. But because he can’t think or act for himself at any point, he doesn’t make for a terribly interesting narrator.
Perhaps my biggest disdain for Hu$tle is the fact that it’s inhabited entirely by people who are easy to dislike. They’re all a bunch of users who prey off one another in order to get their varied fixes. Rose needs his gambling, Paulie needs to feel close to fame, their wives need dresses and the bookies need to get paid. Hu$tle is about a world of genuine losers. At least that’s what the movie tells us. While I’m sure they have many redeeming qualities, the film is more interested in a tabloid-style version of storytelling that intends to shock but really just lags in one uncomfortable situation after the next.