HU$TLE. Directed by Peter Bogdanavich. ESPN Original Entertainment, 2004.
The way the title of the movie HU$TLE is written in large, white, italicized letters except for the red dollar sign expresses its theme and perspective on Rose. Peter Edward Rose, the famous "Charlie Hustle" noted for going all out on every play, became a hustler in the sense of a degenerate gambler, huckster, and con man when he managed the Cincinnati Reds after his playing career ended. (1) The movie, which begins with the note that it may not be suitable for children under fourteen, is based on the 1989 Dowd report, which was ordered by Bart Giamatti, Commissioner of Baseball, to document the charges against Rose. Inevitably, certain aspects have been fictionalized in the dramatization of events re-created to convey the sense of Rose's shady activities at this time. (2)
Tom Sizemore has a moppet haircut something like Rose's during this period, but it makes him look like a big, playful puppy dog rather than the "hard dude" Rob Dibble said Rose was when he pitched for him. The director, Peter Bogdanavich, who considers Rose's tremendous fall from grace "an American tragedy," felt that the script made Pete look so bad that he tried to temper the negative effect with closeups of Sizemore. This "humanizing touch" produced both a softening of his appearance and a falsification of Rose's essential character. Sizemore's Pete Rose is presented as a good-time Charlie Hustle who keeps womanizing and running his scams on an assortment of supposed friends and sleazy hangers-on to support his gambling habit without any sense of consequences. His job as a Major League manager seems an interruption to his gambling activities; Rose is mad about money and willing to turn every aspect of his career and fame into moneymaking propositions.
Nothing is sacred to Rose; many times he sells the supposed bat he broke Cobb's hit record with, and he uses his celebrityhood to keep his associates enthralled so that they will continue to lend him money to support his gambling. He loses large sums of money, but he doesn't expect to pay because he's Pete Rose and it's only "monopoly money," as he says to his worried wife. When his cronies demand the money he has inveigled from them, he gives them autographed baseballs and a pep talk about how much they should appreciate being allowed to be on the same "team" with the baseball legend.
Rose once described himself, in his infamous 1979 Playboy interview, as playing "like a roughneck ... hard and tough." (3) Sizemore conveys little of this competitive bravado in his hunched body language and quick, sidelong, ferretlike looks, which are intended to curry favor and at the same time to size up the situation. The only vestige of Rose's compulsive aggressiveness appears in his burning desire for money and his exploitation of others. This portrayal depicts Rose as an aging sports hero who uses the dangerous practice of indiscriminate betting to compensate for the loss of his skills and the excitement of playing the game.
Bogdanavich makes good use of the contrast between Rose's golden past and the frenetic con games of his leaden present. The movie begins with scenes showing Rose breaking Cobb's record of 4,192 hits; as he stands there accepting the cheers of the fans, the glorious scene fades to the gym where Pete meets with his gambling cronies. When Rose meets with Reds owner Marge Schott to discuss the prohibited presence of his associates in the dressing room, he looks longingly at the Big Red Machine's championship trophy in a glass case. Also, as his sleazy flunky Gio shoots steroids and snorts dope in Rose's house, we see behind him a huge, now-ironic cardboard figure of Pete in his prime. On another occasion Paul Janszen, Rose's primary dupe, who later provides evidence against him, looks sadly at the aging, overweight, and overextended great as he sleeps on the couch while plays from his stellar career are shown on TV. …