Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.
The Sting 
Director: George Roy Hill
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw
Runtime: 129 minutes
In the context of the film’s title, the term “sting” refers to a deceptive operation designed by con artists to swindle a target of their money. The actual “sting” happens when the operation is complete. If handled correctly, the rube won’t even know what hit ’em, and the cons make out like bandits. It takes some true professionals to pull something like that off.
The Sting tells a story of two such professionals, Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), who work together in an attempt to pull off “the big con.” Their target is the infamous mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a mean son-of-a-bitch who the duo became intangled with after unknowningly conning $11,000 in cash from one his couriers. Hooker and Gondorff enlist the aid of dozens of other associates in their attempt to steal a good chunk of Lonnegan’s money. This becomes an intricately detailed plan, with the group eventually setting up a fake off-track betting parlor, complete with a phony announcer and patrons.
Watching Hooker, Gondorff and their bit players work together to pull off this con is a thing of beauty. These guys are masters at their craft, and every person serves a purpose in their plan. This plan appears to be coming together perfectly, but it soon becomes convoluted once undercover FBI agents, a crooked cop and an unsuspected individual all become involved. With so many others in the mix, it’s a little difficult to keep track of everything, and I kept questioning just who was conning who. By the time of the big “sting” scene, my thoughts were scrambled and I had no clue what exactly was going to happen. This impressed me quite a bit, actually, as I like to think I have a good sense for what’s going to happen in caper films like this. Director George Roy Hill and writer David S. Ward kept me on my toes with this one, and I couldn’t be happier about all my second guessing.
In line with the 1930s Chicago setting, the film adds a certain whimsical feel by including a ragtime era soundtrack, as well as using old-fashioned title cards to announce each section of the movie. These are nice touches that help keep the film lighthearted, even as the plot digs deeper and deeper.
Of course, much of the film’s success rides on the shoulders of the immensely talented cast. Newman and Redford have tremendous chemistry, perhaps even surpassing their entertaining pairing in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (also directed by Hill). They are so much fun to watch together, and they have a worthy adversary in the form of Robert Shaw, who plays the target with a certain “cartoonish” vibe. Other highlights include Charles Durning and Ray Walston, the former of which plays the crooked cop, an integral character in the story.
The Sting was a wildly successful film, earning nearly $160 million on a $5.5 million budget. It also cleaned up at the Oscars, earning ten nominations while winning seven (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay). With such impressive accolades, I was primed to be let down by the film, but this blew me away. As far as caper films go, I can’t think of much better than The Sting.