An engaging story dramatized by an exceptional cast with a memorable soundtrack.
Plot: Con-men Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) enact an elaborate scheme on mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) as revenge for the murder of a friend.
Review: My friends and I like to play a game – looking back on movies that won the Academy Award for Best Picture and debating if those films still deserved the honour in retrospect. Guess what? Often they don’t. That’s the great thing about hindsight – it’s 20 / 20.
I wouldn’t put the Sting in that category, though. Lauded as the Best Picture for 1973, the old-fashioned caper set in 1936 Illinois deserved the recognition. That’s because it’s good. Damn good.
The story is exceptionally well-written. David S. Ward (who later wrote and directed Major League – yes, you read that right) crafted an exceptional tale with well-rounded characters. It’s not so much the main characters – Johnny Hooker and Henry Gondorff are your classic hookers with the heart of gold. No, it’s the setups, the cons within cons, the side characters who are almost as interesting as the main ones (if not more). The surprises in this movie just keep piling up, one in front of the other, though it’s not gimmicky. The film sets you up to not believe what you’re seeing in front of you, and for good reason – in this movie, almost everything is a con. The film engages you with the characters, draws you into the world and the stories of the inhabitants, and before you know it, you’re buying everything, hook, line and sinker, just like a real con.
The actors hired for the roles are perfect for each part. Yes, again, you have Newman and Redford, and they’re great. It’s the supporting actors, Ray Walston, Charles Durning, Robert Earl Jones, Harold Gould, Eileen Brennan who make this movie really shine. The best of the bunch, though, may be Dimitra Arliss as Loretta – she isn’t a conventional beauty, but her romance with Redford in this movie is entirely believable. Better than many romances I see between the pretty people in Hollywood these days.
Then, there’s the soundtrack. I’m not an old-timey music lover – while my tastes are eclectic, I’m definitely a product of the generation I grew up in. The soundtrack for this movie is perfect. The whimsical flair Marvin Hamlisch gives it hearkens back to an earlier time – I know ragtime doesn’t fit the generation the film depicts, but it doesn’t matter – it’s perfect.
I own the movie on 4K, and if you don’t have the film and are a physical media fan, I highly recommend this format. The movie looks like a million bucks. The production values were lavish, great sets, costumes, etc., and it looks beautiful on the screen. Literally, if someone was like, I want to make a caper movie, this is the template. Great characters, great stories, great atmosphere. For what this movie is looking to accomplish, it’s perfect. If you haven’t seen it yet, this movie comes with the highest recommendation. Just remember, if a guy offers you money to place a bet for him at a horse race, you should probably decline.