Rating: 3½ stars (out of 4)
The Sting (1973): Dir. George Roy Hill. Written by: David S. Ward. Starring: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, and J.J. Singleton. Rated PG for violence and suggestive themes. Running time: 129 minutes.
After the cinematic icon of the previous year, the Academy went a much different route with their 1973 choice. Whereas The Godfather was a patient rumination on family, business, and ethics, The Sting is practically nonstop entertainment, laced with moral and philosophical meanderings. It’s a nice breather between the epic Godfather films.
Set in 1930’s era Chicago, the film stars Robert Redford as Johnny Hooker, a small-time grafter eking out a living by conning hapless folks out of their paydays. But when his more experienced partner croaks after a botched job, Hooker teams up with Paul Newman’s Henry Gondorff to try to pull a big con—in the name of revenge.
Screenwriter David S. Ward weaves an ingenious plot, one that twists and turns and constantly forces us to reassess our conclusions. Ward also nails the lexicon of the time, uttered by not a single miscast actor. Newman is particularly good as the has-been con artist who’s just waiting for a chance to re-enter the spotlight..and promptly exit with the dough. He sets the bait for the “mark” (the target of the con) in a high-stakes poker game early in the film. How does he win? He out-cheats the cheater, of course.
Even with his breakneck pacing, director Hill manages to slow down the plot with tender moments—the bond that grows between Hooker and Gondorff, and the nuances of the ridiculous scheme Gondorff concocts. And the film takes time to ponder what such cockamamie schemes are really about—the plan becomes less about money and more about the bonds forged, the sins healed, the lives lived.
While certainly not the most profound film on my countdown, The Sting manages to entertain consistently, and piles on surprise after surprise. For first-time watchers—prepare to have your mind blown, and then some.
Next film: The Godfather Part II, 1974