Last Blindspot film of the year: The Sting (1973)

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In 1930s Chicago, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker.

This turns out to be second George Roy Hill movie I saw, whom I didn’t know was born in Minnesota. The first film of his I saw was Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, in fact, it’s the pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman that was the main draw for me as they have a great rapport together. I could see why this movie was popular, a box office hit and a critical darling, even winning three out of ten nominations: Best Picture Oscar, Best Director and Best Screenplay for David S. Ward. It’s a fun and entertaining caper movie set in Chicago during the Great Depression.

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Despite the light and humorous tone, there’s some emotional and moving scenes, especially when the main lead lost his good friend who’s killed by the mob, Doyle Lonnegan. That incident leads to the two leads on a vengeful quest in conning the mob boss out of his money. Redford plays a small time grifter Johnny Hooker who teams up a once-great conman Henry Gondorff (Newman) to teach him the big con. Given the 11-year difference, it make sense that Newman is playing more of a mentor role to Redford.

The plot is a bit complicated, but not overly convoluted that you’re too confused to enjoy the movie. It’s quite fun to see how they plan each trick, whilst still keeping it unpredictable. Hill broke the film down in chapters with its own title, i.e. The Set Up, The Wire, etc. which I find to be quite unique in and of itself. It’s worth noting too that the movie’s two leads are NOT good guys, they’re con artists after all, but yet you’re rooting for them right from the start. The pairing of Redford/Newman are played down a bit here compared to Butch Cassidy. In fact, we don’t even see Newman until after about 25 minutes in and he has less screen time overall than Redford. His intro of him waking up with a huge hangover is pretty fun to watch though.

The film focuses more on the tricky scheme itself that involves a great ensemble of supporting actors. There are many familiar faces, i.e. Robert Shaw (most remembered for From Russia With Love) who plays another icy villain here. The guy who played Luther looked strangely familiar to me as he looked so much like James Earl Jones, sure enough that’s his father, Robert Earl Jones. Of course there’s also Dana Elcar (Pete Thornton on one of my fave 90s shows MacGyver) as the FBI agent.

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The Sting‘s got everything going for it in terms of entertainment value. First-rate production quality down to those sharp suits, fast-paced direction, good acting by the two great-looking leads, AND it’s got a fabulous featuring ragtime music by Scott Joplin. It’s a hugely popular song I’ve heard time and time again, but I had no idea it was featured in this film. Apparently composer Marvin Hamlisch adapted Joplin’s tune The Entertainer for the film and it made Joplin’s music popular again in the 70s and beyond.

I’m glad I finally saw this one. I appreciate the fact that Hill didn’t make this caper a dark, brooding and somber affair like most crime thrillers. No unnecessary romance to over-complicate matters either, thank goodness. There’s not too many action scenes here, but there are definitely some tense and surprising moments that got me on the edge of my seat. Overall it’s a fun, thrilling and suspenseful ride from start to finish. That said, I wouldn’t call The Sting a masterpiece of cinema or anything. It’s more of a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t quite make a lingering emotional impact afterwards, but a perfectly satisfying piece of entertainment I certainly don’t mind seeing again.

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Have you seen The Sting? Let me know what you think!