The Sting – 1973
Director – George Roy Hill
Starring – Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw
Some movies are just the right combination of pluck and chemistry. They don’t have the strongest story, nor do they have the most gripping action, or the most beautiful girl, but they leave you with a pleasant feeling once the film is over. Thanks to the long lasting effects of this pervasive pleasantness, films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Hot Shots, and The Neverending Story still resonate with me, while still other films (much like the Wonka re-make) fail. They possess some element that isn’t quantifiable or necessarily repeatable. The stars aligned and the seas parted and low and behold the film is good. The Sting sits firmly in this demographic, not at all bad, but somehow better than the sum of its parts.
Redford and Newman re-team in this buddy film set in the lawless Chicago of the 30’s. Newman oozes confidence and cool as the con-man Henry Gondorf, who takes novice Johnny Hooker, Redford, under his wing in order to pull off the fleece of the lifetime against serious as cancer mob boss, Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw). There are a number of twists and turns, red-herrings and surprises on the con-men’s road to revenge, yet the whole tone of the film stays light and fun. Despite some marvelously dower moments by Robert Shaw’s Lonnegan, the stake never really seem that high, although it is still a pleasure to watch all of the three main actors do their thing.
Cinematographically, the film rides a thin line between stylized and cartoon, (a line that fellow 70’s heart-throb Warren Beatty went way, WAY past in Dick Tracy) and at times seems a little campy. Still the look of the film sets a certain tone that works for the camaraderie of Hooker and Gondorf. It looks exactly like the Disney resort “The Boardwalk” made me feel, nostalgic about a time I never thought I cared about.
Of all the creative elements, the least effective in terms of me continuing to enjoy the movie, was the musical score. Despite the fact that it compliments the set design and look of the film, every time strains of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” began, I was immediately drawn out of the story. Luckily, even though the music is a little goofy, it isn’t used to a degree where I couldn’t pay attention, I just gritted my teeth and eventually it would end.
By and large, I enjoyed this film quite a bit. I saw the twists and turns for what they were long before they were revealed, but I blame my knowledge of modern movie conventions for that. While it might not be the best con-man movie I’ve ever seen (that dubious honor goes to the super fantastic Paper Moon), I think it’s earned it’s spot on this list, even if that spot is towards the end.
“Learn to run your own con-game.” – Ashley