Director: George Roy Hill. Starring: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw. Rated PG. Color. 129 Minutes.
I must admit that my general hiatus as a contributor on this site is primarily driven by laziness and a lack of inspiration. Despite the constant pestering by Byrd to turn in a review or a top ten list, I have struggled to find enthusiasm to actually write. Fortunately, after watching a Hollywood legend such as “The Sting” for the first time, I find myself with an overwhelming sense of why I love movies in the first place. This is such a phenomenal picture that it makes generally good films seem lackluster by comparison. I have been on a Paul Newman kick recently, which undoubtedly would lead to a screening of “The Sting”, I was not expecting to be taken aback so strongly by its charm.
The film follows a small-time con artist named Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) who rips off a seemingly harmless victim with the help of his aging partner. Unfortunately, the crew discovers that the money they stole belongs to a big-time New York mobster named Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). Soon afterwards a retaliation leaves the aging hustler dead in the street. Hooker flees to Chicago to team up with retired conman Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to pull the ultimate job on Lonnegan. Using a brilliant setup to hook their unsuspecting victim, the duo employ a group of skilled grifters to stage a fake betting parlor for horse racing where they convince Lonnegan to bet half a million dollars on a race he believes will be fixed. Additionally, there are subplots including Hooker being tracked by a corrupt police officer which he does not disclose to his partner Gondorff, and a love interest with a diner waitress who is also not entirely who she appears to be.
The Sting is such a superlative film that I genuinely have zero criticisms to offer. Redford and Newman became one of cinema’s inseparable duos after the success of 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” however, the pair of Hooker and Gondorff is far superior in terms of charisma and depth of character emotions. The film is also a technical masterpiece from the iconic score by Marvin Hamlisch whose variations of Scott Joplin’s classic ragtime piano perfectly sets the tone, as well as the pacing of the editing that brilliantly uses unique title cards to break up the narrative and provide context for the process of constructing the masterful con. The cinematography, set designs, and staging achieve the feel of a much older film that reportedly director George Roy Hill strove so greatly to achieve. Above all, the film is so damn entertaining. Like a steam engine gaining speed, the narrative grows in excitement until it culminates in one of the most enjoyable endings I could have ever imagined.
Albeit not the most philosophical film ever made, “The Sting” absolutely touches on some compelling ideas regarding the morality of ‘street justice’ and the implications of rooting for an antihero. Redford’s character is clearly torn between the idea of revenge for the death of a good friend, guilt for the financial prosperity the job would grant him, and the reality of where the blood money actually comes from. As admirable as Hooker and Gondorff may appear, the audience will never lose sight of the fact that they are criminals which speaks volumes to the films complexity. Perhaps the film is also making an anti-establishment statement regarding the governing powers during the Vietnam war or comparing the troubling economic climate of the 1970’s to that of the Great Depression. Regardless, the viewer can choose to completely ignore all of this and enjoy the film for the immense entertainment it brings. Like a great book you don’t want to end, The Sting is one of the most enjoyable films you are ever likely to watch and is an inspiring masterwork of American culture that I intend on returning to for many years to come.