Movie review – “The Sting

Elaine Blum

“The Sting” influenced many of its successors and yet it gets far too little credit for doing so. It is the grandfather of all heist movies, from a time before action relied on explosions, high-tech gadgets or special effects. In lieu of flashy technology, the brilliance of “The Sting” relies on a well-written and well-acted plot.
In the film, small-time grifter Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) teams up with heist master Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) in order to play an intricate con against arrogant, vindictive millionaire Doyle Lonnigan (Robert Shaw) who is responsible for the death of Hooker’s late partner. Hooker and Gondorff must con Lonnigan without him knowing they are doing so and also while making sure that they themselves are not being conned by each other.
Like any great heist movie, “The Sting” asks its audience: Who is playing who and to what extent? Both Hooker and Gondorff play their cards close to the chest by withholding information from one another. But until all the chips are down and the cards revealed in the last scene, the audience cannot tell apart planned actions from spur-of-the-moment impromptus due to altercations. How much of what’s going on is part of the con? Like those great heist movies that follow it, “The Sting” holds a few tricks up its sleeve until the very end.
If someone desperately wanted to find fault in the film, they might consider its slower pace or semi-repetitious soundtrack. But is either really such a bad thing? True, some parts move at a slower pace than what the modern movie-goer might be used to. However, being perpetually on the edge of your seat is not an adequate indication of a good movie. I say the pace is rather convenient for focusing on the action — it is unlikely that you will miss something due to the pace, isn’t it? As for the simplistic score — the music is pleasantly unobtrusive. It stays in the background without detracting from the main action or dialogue. The understated jazzy piano subtly alludes to a classier time of three piece suits and saloons.
Winner of seven Oscars in 1973, including best picture, “The Sting” is an obvious choice for movie-watchers who enjoy a good classic. For those of you who are not in the habit of savoring the classics, this is a good place to start. The grandfather of heist movies sets the standards for not only the big-finish ending, but it also defined the stock characters necessary for any caper comedy, e.g. the eager rookie (Redford), the sagacious heist master (Newman), the arrogant target (Shaw — perhaps an early incarnation of Benedict from “Ocean’s 11?”). As a fan of the heist genre and of well-acted movies, I highly recommend “The Sting.”
And a note to you Lawrentians: conveniently enough, Seeley G. Mudd library is in the process of acquisitioning the “The Sting” on DVD. Props to the library for making this review timely!