Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Canon Movie Review: The Sting

This review comes from a suggestion by reader Ben W., who suggested that I watch the 1973 Oscar Winner for Best Picture, The Sting. Directed by George Roy Hill, The Sting stars Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Robert Shaw, Ray Walston, Charles Durning, and Eileen Brennan. Along with the Best Picture Oscar, The Sting also won Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, and Best Musical Score. In The Sting, which is set in 1930s Chicago, a pair of drifters named Johnny Hooker (Redford) and Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) inadvertently fleece 11,000 dollars from a crime boss named Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw), and Lonnegan has Coleman killed in retaliation. Just before Luther's death, he tells Johnny to meet a former big-time con man in Henry Gondorff (Newman), and the two come up with a complicated scheme to con Doyle out of a lot of money in retaliation for Luther's death. Along the way, Johnny must also dodge hitmen out to kill him, and a cop named Snyder (Durning) who wants a cut of Johnny's action. A few notes about this film, and there will probably be SPOILERS, so read carefully.

- The first thing that came to my mind when starting this film is how great it looks. From the costume design that was not only sharp but spot-on for that era, to the gritty setting of the streets of 1930s Chicago, to the interiors of the betting house and the amusement park/brothel where Henry is holed up at, the setting and backdrop of The Sting really adds a lot to the movie. Kudos to the art department, cinematographers and costume designer, as they did a top notch job and their work was almost as impressive as the acting of Newman and Redford.

- Speaking of Newman and Redford, each man does an excellent job in their second film together (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid being the first). Newman is entirely convincing as a master of the con, as he plays Gondoff as a cool, collected character who always seems one step ahead of everyone else. However, the main focus of the film revolves around Redford's Johnny Hooker, a skilled con-man in his own right who doesn't have the experience that Gondoff has in pulling off the big con. Redford does an excellent job in portraying Hooker as a multi-dimensional character whom, even though we know he's on the wrong side of the law, we root for anyway due in large part to the compassion he shows for Luther at the beginning of the film and the vulnerability he displays throughout the film. Whereas other actors may have portrayed Johnny as a 'too cool for school' type character, Redford is both able and willing to add humanity to the role, and does an excellent job in doing so.

- While Newman and Redford were both great, perhaps the best acting performance turned in in The Sting was Robert Shaw's portrayal as crime boss Doyle Lonnegan, a cunning and clever man who wants to be seen as a legitimate buisnessman, but is not above cheating at poker or killing to get his way. As Lonnegan, Shaw is perfectly cast as the foil of the con, exuding a sense of menace with every sneer he makes onscreen. Even though he is the mark for this con, Shaw is able to make Lonnegan look like a sharp cookie who is not one to be trifled with. A great performance from a great actor.

- Even though there is a lot going on in the script, with twists and turns in every direction, The Sting is not a muddled mess but rather moves quite smoothly and is relatively easy to follow. A lot of credit for that goes to director George Roy Hill, who does an excellent job of pacing the film and keeping the suspense level high. As director, Hill doesn't use a lot of fancy camera tricks to create the action, but he does use different angles throughout the film to heighten the drama. One scene in particular that is well done is Lonnegan's first entrance into the betting shop, where we are treated to a bird's eye view from a second floor window following Lonnegan and his minions into the building, walking in without noticing that they're being watched. Also of note is the poker game on the train between Lonnegan and Gondorff, which is a great scene not only due to the talents of Shaw and Newman, but the pacing and camera shots which the director used.

- The score of The Sting contains a lot of ragtime music from Scott Joplin, and due to the success of the movie, Joplin's 'The Entertainer' briefly became a hit again. Even though the movie is set in the 1930s and the music was from the 1900s and 1910s, the score actually fits in perfectly with the whole motif of the film, giving the film a breezy feel to it in contrast with the grittiness of the setting. The music also fit in perfectly with the 'cards' that introduced each scene in the movie, which also was a nice touch by Hill.

Overall, there's not really anything negative I can say about The Sting. Sure, a couple of plot points seemed to be a little too convinent, but this is a great film by a great director with great actors. I suggest that if you haven't seen it, then make an effort to see The Sting. Overall, I'd give it a 9.15 out of 10. Well, it's getting late, so I'm going to bed. Hopefully, you've enjoyed this mini blast from the past. Well, thanks for reading, and if you any ideas for future posts, or thoughts about this post, than either leave a comment on the blog or send them to me at e-mail at

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