The Sting (1973) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA rated: PG for violence and language
Length: 129 min.

Cast: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Eileen Brennan, Ray Walston, Harold Gould, John Hefferman, Dana Elcar, Robert Earl Jones
Small role: Sally Kirkland
Director: George Roy Hill
Screenplay: David S. Ward
Review published February 16, 2013

The Sting 1973 Redford NewmanThe duo of Robert Redford (The Candidate, Three Days of the Condor) and Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke, Torn Curtain) reunite for another classic, directed by George Roy Hill (Slap Shot, Funny Farm), who had worked with the two on another great one, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, just four years earlier. The result: an even bigger critical and commercial success. Not only would it rank among the top-grossing films of 1973, but it would also go on to earn ten Oscar nominations, winning seven, including the vaunted Best Picture.

Set during the Great Depression in the mid-1930s, Redford stars as Johnny Hooker, a two-bit conman learning the ropes from his mentor, the soon-to-be-retiring Luther Coleman (Jones, Trading Places). However, Luther ends up dead when they unknowingly swindle money from a man working for a high-roller numbers racketeer named Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw, From Russia with Love), who orders the men killed for their transgression to make a statement not to mess with their business. Hooker has no choice but to take it on the lam, ultimately connecting in Chicago with the man who showed Luther everything he knows, Henry Gondorff (Newman), and along with a cavalcade of other grifters, they plan the mother of all scams on Lonnegan to try to take him for nearly all he is worth.

Everything is top-notch in this lavish production from the Edith Head (Hud, Girls Girls Girls) costume work, the the highly-detailed city streets and buildings, the props, to the vintage automobiles. It's sense of period is truly sublime. It also sports one of the most memorable scores in movie lore, a Scott Joplin ragtime soundtrack, reworked by Marvin Hamlisch (Bananas, The Spy Who Loved Me), that is both catchy and in perfect keeping with the light and twisty tone of the film and the era in which it is set, even if the music itself had been composed by Joplin decades prior to the 1930s setting.

The cast chemistry is superb, with Redford and Newman in top form, especially when they're on the screen together. But it's Robert Shaw as the menacing Lonnegan who steals the show whenever he appears, simmering after he experiences indignity after indignity, all crafted to get under his skin so that he will get sloppy in his attempts at retribution. And a fantastic supporting cast all do wonders in fleshing out bit roles with a great deal of flavor.  A cracker-jack Oscar-winning script by David S. Ward (Major League, Sleepless in Seattle), fleshes out the characters and amusing situations, making the film light, fun, and quite funny to watch, even if you know where it eventually will lead down the road.

To a certain extent, The Sting is a victim of its own success for today's audiences, as we are quite accustomed to films about con artists that have big-reveal endings that completely fool the viewers expecting that everything they see is really what's going on.  However, I think this isn't too much of a concern, and it's a testament of the film's craft, that it treads the line of ambiguity so well that the film will actually fool you, or it will just end the way you think it is going to end and you won't notice, because there really isn't any 'big reveal' moment told in flashback, a la The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense.  Besides, the enjoyment of the film doesn't hinge on the twists.  It features good storytelling, interesting characters, a good plot, and lots of amusing insights along the way.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo