The Sting (1973)

Everybody loves "The Godfather"...well, maybe everyone. I may be the only exception. But even more people love "The Godfather: Part II"; it's easy to say that the films series got better...though again, here I differ with most people. Still, the two films are arguably the most famous movies in cinema history (aside from "Citizen Kane") and both have won the coveted Best Picture Oscar. So it's easy to forget the film that separates the two of them...yes, sandwiched between the two iconic, gangster films is a little gem called "The Sting".
To be fair, "The Sting" isn't so much forgotten and neglected as it is not known to be caught in the middle of films that somehow overshadow it. Yet, you can see the influence of "The Godfather" in "The Sting" and George Roy Hill finally commits to a time period...huzzah.
In "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", Hill and stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford created a corny, somewhat entertaining rendition of two famous figures from gun-slingin' history. Yet amidst the spittin' and hollerin' and robbin' there was no indication that we pre-1960s, mainly because of the pop songs that kept getting throw into the mix. But with "The Sting", the score is punctuated with Scott Joplin ragtime pieces and the film is set in the 1930s, so everything is pretty on-key.
Indeed, everything does go right (at least in terms of a successful movie), because "The Sting" is an almost seamless, highly enjoyable crime movie that holds its head very high even with the company it keeps.
The movie begins with a con, thus cementing the fact that we are actually cheering for the villains. This happened before and it would happen after; but the modern day "bad/good guy" that we've come to know and love got his start with movies like this.
Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and his pals enjoy stealing people's money. One day them accidentally stumble onto something bigger...they get involved in a crime ring of gambling. They steal $11,000 and by doing this, insult the man at the top.
Out of spite and to show them who's boss, the man with all the cards, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw as delightful as ever), decides to bump off the people involved. He kills the one man who was finally deciding to leave grifting—now he has made himself enemies with Johnny Hooker. Hooker enlists the help of super-grifter Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to take down Lonnegan. They want to clean out his bank as a proverbial middle finger for killing their friend.
So, in a way, "The Sting" is about revenge...yet many of the characters say that revenge is a pointless act. What I think "The Sting" is about is seizing a golden opportunity, after all, these are all criminals.
Gondorff scouts out a team of five or six men to help with the construction of the con; but they still have to evade Lonnegan, the police, and the FBI who suddenly become involved.
"The Sting" looks as great as any crime movie with an early 20th century setting. The film that came to my mind was Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America"—a film that is often praised as being the quintessential crime film. I disagree here again and would go out to say that "The Sting" dwarfs Leone's film and sets a high mark for every other crime movie to follow.
Not only does "The Sting" keep its own among "The Godfather" films, it also remains one of the best con movies and crime movies ever made. It also was highly influential in pop culture...Joplin's "The Entertainer" was just known as the song from "The Sting". Then there's the nose touch, a gesture now means something like a wink. Finally there's the way the film was shot, you can see how "The French Connection" would take some cues from this film. From dimly lit elevator rides to smoky poker games, "The Sting" is the daddy to all the cliche moments from the films in decades later: my mind went to both "Fatal Attraction" and "Casino" (one of Scorsese's finest).
The performance are good, the script is great, and above all the film is just so fun.
"The Sting" is celluloid gold.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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