Director George Roy Hill’s The Sting is a classic movie featuring one of my favorite talented duos in cinematic history–Paul Newman and Robert Redford. This film had a lot to live up to, as it had to follow in the shadow of the success of Hill’s ’69 hit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It didn’t disappoint. In fact, I would even say this is my favorite of the two.
Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and his partners Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) and Joe Eerie (Jack Kehoe) con a man who works for a ruthless crime boss named Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) for $11,000 in cash. Shortly after, Luther announces his retirement from con jobs and urges Hooker to seek out Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman). Luther is then murdered by Lonnegan’s men, and Hooker is forced to flee for his life and seek out Gondorff, who he finds in Chicago hiding from the FBI. Together, they plan a “big con” on Lonnegan, which leads them on a path with enough twists and turns to keep the plot moving at a nice pace and keeps the audience thinking.
Even though the plot revolves around a somewhat serious subject matter, involving cons, crime and murder, the tone remains pretty light throughout. The use of music in this movie isn’t exactly what you’d expect. Scott Joplon ragtime music is played throughout the film. It’s enough to make you feel like the characters have got everything under control, even when they are faced with grave circumstances, such as Hooker having to run for his life several times throughout the movie as men with guns chase him. The amount of planning and people who end up involved in the big con is really amazing. Every individual’s act is crucial in making sure the con works exactly how it is supposed to, to the last small detail. One wrong step, and the whole thing could blow up in their faces.
At the same time, you can tell that the two main characters never really fully trust each other, and because of that, the audience never fully trusts them either. The first time I watched it, I wondered if and when Hooker and Gondorff would betray each other, despite the fact that they seemed to work so well together. However, Hooker is a bit of a desperate man, having gotten himself involved and in debt with a lot of bad people, and desperate men do desperate things. On the other hand, Gondorff is introduced as a bit of a mysterious character. It is obvious that he is a big shot in the con world, and the audience just has to hope that since he is an old friend of Luther’s, who seems like such a nice guy despite being a con man (or perhaps it’s just that wise, distinctive voice we all widely know and love thanks to his son, James Earl Jones, sounding just like him), that he will be just as trustworthy too.
The fact that the audience never really knows who to trust not only shows how amazing the script is, but also how incredible a job the actors do in this film. Paul Newman and Robert Redford really manage to take their characters to another level. In addition to that, supporting characters, like Robert Shaw who plays the villainous crime boss, is really convincing in his part. His character is not a stupid man, otherwise he would’ve never risen to the top like he did. I can’t speak for everyone but, I was always on the edge wondering if he was going to figure it all out before the job was over. However, even the smartest and most careful man can be weakened by greed, and this plot doesn’t ignore that fact. When the opportunity to make money arises, he approaches it, but with a carefulness that doesn’t make the con job so easy for Newman and Redford’s characters, which is why the story keeps you on the edge throughout the film.
The Sting was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 7, including Best Picture. I think it was well deserved considering how great it is. The story, acting, set design, and music is enough to bring this movie to near perfection. It’s a very enjoyable movie to watch, in my opinion, if only to see the chemistry of Paul Newman and Robert Redford resonate on the screen.