The Sting (1973)
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Directed by George Roy Hill
Starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw
Plot: In Chicago in September 1936, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker.
Movie Trivia: Robert Redford did not see this movie until June of 2004, even though it won 7 Oscars.
The music and opening credits make this feel very vaudeville, like I am about be in for a fun show. Watching the first man step to the side as the thief runs off with the mans money makes me really suspicious of him, but I am not too trusting of Hooker either. Ah yes, immediate confirmation on the first man as he runs off, and immediate confirmation on Hooker as we find out he was part of it the whole time. Now that is a creative con, and really leads me in to be excited for what else is to come.
Seeing Hooker in the casino is heartbreaking. He seems like a wonderful guy and like someone who should have a better head on his shoulders but his constant reaching for the next big thing clouds his judgement of the present. I am actually finding it hard to take notes while I watch this one because the script has me fascinated. It is like music, in a way, sharp and quick with an intelligent design. Redford looks amazing in the maroon pinstripe suit, skinny and tall, quick and agile. Luther’s death hit hard to both Hooker and the audience member as the call went unanswered. I knew in that moment and my heart sank.
The transition between the different phases or chapters of the film is beautiful, reminding me of Norman Rockwell and of a happier time that almost comes in juxtaposition to the fear and tragedy just witnessed through the plot. The background painting and set design makes it feel almost like a carnival. Paul Newman’s character seems very hardened but at ease at the same time. He has a past but he tends to not let it get too much in the way of his present it seems.
The makeover sequence was funny and reminds you that this movie is not overly as serious as the underbelly of the plot allows you to occasionally believe. No dialogue with the ragtime music makes it feel like a silent film, completely with the slightest touch of slapstick humor. Hooker placing the scrap of paper in the crack of the door shows a good deal in the the skepticism and mistrust he has of society, especially after what happened to Luther. Setting up the next con was a beautiful showmanship of camera angles and script writing. It looked like a painting.
Watching this film I can see where countless others have gained inspiration for set design especially, but for many other things as well. Every scene feels almost too perfect, like it would in a musical or a cartoon, but realistic enough for you to know this is real life. As the plot builds up to the poker game I feel myself genuinely invested in the outcome, wanting Hookers first big con to go well. But So many things are working against them from the start, it is hard to see it working out perfectly, that it if it works out at all. The series of fancy card tricks ending in a 52 card pickup seems to be foreshadowing that.
Paul Newman’s drunk impression in hilarious and the slow con is fascinating and thrilling all at once. I am not sure if it is because I am a poker fan or it was just that well done, but the entire sequence made me almost giddy as the final hands were revealed. Hooker’s betrayal seems like the next step in the long con more than anything. Hooker is the second man in the operation after all. This is quite the test for his fist time outside of the small game on the streets. And we see that the paper scrap came in handy quite well as Hooker escapes into the dark for his life.
We find out quickly that is was Doyle who set up the shooter in Hookers home, making me wonder just how well this con might go over yet again. They are sending me through quite the roller coaster of believing if it will work out or not. Which works very well for the genre overall. Every moment drips with anticipation as another layer of the con is revealed. Will this be the one that falls through? Or this one? Each scene adds to the film, which seems like a simple thing but it isn’t, really. Every scene seems necessary.
The closer we get the the climax the higher the chance of failure becomes. Each step is bigger and riskier than the last, but at this point you aren’t too sure who you are pulling for. Part of you want the target to find out, even if it is too late, to see the look on his face as he realizes he’s been had, and another part of you wants them to completely get away with it. Though the constant threat to Hooker’s life leaves you to believe that no one will quite get out of this scot-free.
The sting goes off and it had me going myself until the FBI was checking the door after the target left the building. What a great ride this has been! I found myself glued to the screen on more than one instance, forgetting to blog and take notes as the impressions hit me. It was true comedy and wit like I have not seen in a long time. I give this movie a 4.5/5 putting it very close to being added to my list of favorite movies. I recommend this one for sure.