Jan 2, 2015

[Movies] The Sting (1973)

I feel bad for folks who dismiss older movies for being somehow boring or outdated versus what's shown in theaters today. Beyond a wealth of good stories to be experienced, there's also quite a number of notable actors and actresses who really defined those older generations of movies. And one of the major gems of movies not too long ago was the flash and charm of a much younger Robert Redford.

The Sting is one of those movies that really capitalized on his success. And by pairing him with another screen legend, Paul Newman, this was quite the interesting combination of talent gathered into a single movie.

Beyond its stars, the movie has since had strong influences on a variety of caper-style films that show us how a crime is executed as opposed to how it's thwarted. And naturally our protagonists had noble enough reasons to do what they did this in movie. It still means it attempts to make you root for the "bad guys" but go figure. That's life in Hollywod for you.

Synopsis: The Sting is a 1973 caper film directed by George Roy Hill with a screenplay by David S. Ward. The movie had been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and managed to win 7 of them including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.

Set during the Great Depression, the movie follows grifter and con man Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) manages to con away about $11,000 from a hapless victim. But now his associate Luther (Robert Earl Jones) feels this last score was enough to allow him to retire. His only advice for Hooker is to look for Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) in Chicago and get him to teach him the "big con" to continue his "education" of sorts. However the victim of that last con was working for the crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), and this leads to Luther's death and potentially the same fate for Hooker if he's not careful.

He eventually finds Henry hiding from the FBI and asks for his help in dealing with Lonnegan. He's not eager to get involved at first, but eventually he relents and agrees to help Johnny. And his big plan is a big con known as "the wire" which involves creating a faker off-track betting parlor as a way to steal the victim's money. Thus they assemble a team to put the con together and somehow swindle the infamous Lonnegan.

The team of Newman and Redford is quite the powerful one and the two end up playing their roles in this movies like longtime friends. Then again, but this time the two had already worked together on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and so by now they were more familiar with one another. And I think that degree of familiarity played well to create a greater sense of on-screen camaraderie that helped realize their roles as grifters and con men part of a criminal brotherhood of sorts.

The overall pacing of things in itself was sort of an educational piece as each part of the con is clearly sketched out. The movie is divided into chapters of sorts that name the various phases of the operation coupled with some lighter music that sort of captures the period. It's easy to forget that you're watching a bunch of criminals try to steal from another bigger criminal and just end up rooting for Hooker and Gondorff and hope that they succeed. And quite frankly the odds are against them given the elaborate nature of the con they're trying to pull off.

The big twist mid-way through the movie is when the FBI gets involved and tries to find way to entrap Gondorff. The whole bit about him hiding from the FBI wasn't just a throwaway piece of character background and they try to arrange a sting of their own in order to get their man. And I really liked how this angle ended up testing Hooker's loyalty to Gondorff and also played a major role in how things resolved in the end.

I can see now why this movie has been cited as being one of the best screenplays ever written. The story has all the good stuff from great characters to a tight, well-executed plot. The chapter divisions tied to the con itself totally make sense here and the entire progression from one moment to the next was just brilliant.

The Sting is truly a classic of American Cinema. A lot of different caper movies in recent years still owe a heck of a lot to the brilliant work that went into this movie given its obvious influence on all other caper movies since then. And thus I'm glad to rate this movie a full 5 obnoxious, annoying things that Gondorff tries to do in order to get under Lonnegan's skin out of a possible 5.


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