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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > The Sting

MOVIE REVIEWS

THE STING (1973)

Starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, John Heffernan, Dana Elcar, Jack Kehoe, Dimitra Arliss, Robertearl Jones, James J. Sloyan, Charles Dierkop, Lee Paul, Sally Kirkland, Avon Long, Arch Johnson, Ed Bakey, Brad Sullivan and John Quade.

Screenplay by David S. Ward.

Directed by George Roy Hill.

Distributed by Universal Home Video.  130 minutes.  Rated PG.

 

 

The Sting

The Sting had the bad fortune of being the film that won the Best Picture Oscar in the year between The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974).  Perhaps because of that, this classic has become well-respected (it did win seven Oscars) and fondly remembered but somewhat faded from public view.  While The Godfather Saga has been packaged and repackaged for the digital age, The Sting was only briefly available on DVD before and this new release is the first time that this classic film has been released with notable extras or even in the letterbox format.

Well, I apologize if I offend the cult of mob purists, but this DVD release shows that not only has The Sting aged far better than either of the Godfather movies, it was also a much superior, more imaginative and well-written movie in the first place.  While The Godfather quickly fell into a predictable rhythm (lavish family function followed by gruesome mob violence, over and over again ad nauseum) there is nothing predictable about The Sting.  This celebration of con men also cons the audience throughout, directing your attention in one area while picking your pocket in another.  The Sting has one of the few truly shocking endings in Hollywood history -- anyone who tells you they knew what was happening the first time they saw it is simply lying to you. 

The Sting takes place in Chicago during the Great Depression (the ongoing use of Scott Joplin's ragtime music to score the film is just one of the many ways that the film is spectacularly evocative of the era.)  It is the story of Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), a small-time grifter who mistakenly cons a numbers runner for the biggest gangster in the city (Robert Shaw).  When his mentor (Robertearl Jones) is killed in retribution, Hooker finds a down-on-his-luck purveyor of the big con named Heny Gondorff (Paul Newman) to help him get revenge.

I won't tell you any more of the storyline, because that would rob you of the opportunity to experience the twisting, turning landscape of the film on your own.  Just remember nothing is ever exactly what it seems and every time you think you've got everything figured out, you are wrong.

The Sting has an amazing plot and script, but it also works because of three of the great actors of our generation are hitting on all cylinders.  Newman and Redford are outstanding, shockingly bettering their chemistry in their iconic first film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which was made a few years previously. 

As great as Redford and Newman were, this film seriously demands a reassessment of one of the most fascinating characters in film, the late, great Robert Shaw.  Shaw was one of the last legendary hard-living British actors (and he was an accomplished playwright, writing several theatrical productions including The Man In the Glass Booth.)  Shaw drank too much, worked too hard, was an insanely competitive sportsman and an over-the-top lover.  And eventually, as these things so often happen, he died too young.  He had a heart attack in the late 70s at 59 years-old right as his acting career was exploding -- an explosion that can be traced directly to this role.  Interestingly, this wasn't even Shaw's greatest film role, his best was as the hardened shark hunter Quint in Jaws.  Shaw also played a Bond villain (in From Russia With Love), a ruthless hi-jacker (in the great, nearly forgotten The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3), a king (A Man For All Seasons), the Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin and Marion) and a hardened treasure hunter (stealing The Deep from co-stars Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bissett's wet t-shirt).  His Sting gangster boss Doyle Lonnegan is ruthless, greedy and surprisingly likable character and Shaw infuses him with a surprising nuance.  People don't act like this anymore, and that's a damned shame.  Robert Shaw was one for the ages.

I don't like to use superlatives, but The Sting is pretty darn close to a perfect movie.  It is the type of movie that reminds you how powerful the art form can be and gives you hope that it can be that way again if talented people come up with the right story.  Don't take it from me, see it yourself.  (9/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright 2005 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted: September 15, 2005.

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Copyright 2005 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted: September 15, 2005.