Movie Project #33: The Sting [1973]

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 [1973]

The Sting [1973]
Director: George Roy Hill
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Drama
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.

The Sting [1973]

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.

The Sting [1973]

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.

9/10

The Ten Best Actors of All Time [Relay Race]

Nostra over at My Filmviews always comes up with some pretty rad ideas for blogathons and features, and his latest may be the best one yet. I had the honor of being selected by Jaina from Time Well Spent to take part in the “Ten Best Actors of All Time” Relay Race. For those who have missed it so far, here is Nostra’s description of the series:

So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the best actors. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one actor (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. The idea is to make this a long race, so that enough bloggers get a chance to remove and add an actor. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best actors.
It will also mean that those who follow this relay race will get to know new blogs as well!

As a reference point, here is the order of the race so far (starting from the beginning):
My Filmviews -> The Focused Filmographer -> Front Room Cinema -> I Love That Film -> FlixChatter -> All Eyes On Screen -> Time Well Spent

I had to do some serious thinking about this list, as it is already pretty amazing. I didn’t want to have to remove any of these guys, but rules are rules. Here we go:

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro

Daniel Day Lewis
Daniel Day Lewis

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin

Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman

Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando

Robert Duvall
Robert Duvall

Christian Bale
Christian Bale

Gregory Peck
Gregory Peck

Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio

My Addition: Paul Newman

Paul Newman
How can you not like Paul Newman? He was so effortlessly cool in everything he was in. The ladies loved him because of his good looks and big blue eyes, guys loved him because he was a man’s man and could play the confident anti-hero so well, and he was a hell of a guy to boot. Not only was he a successful actor for SIX decades, Newman was a humanitarian who gave back to a wide variety of charities. Hell, his profits from his Newman’s Own line of salad dressings (and other foods) amounted to over $300 million, all of which went to charity.

But regardless of how awesome of a human being he was, he was just as great on the big screen. I became a fan after watching The Hustler for the first time last year, and I quickly made an effort to see more of his work. My favorite performance so far remains his lead role in Cool Hand Luke, where he just oozes charisma and proves that you don’t need guns or explosions to be a badass.

Paul Newman was nominated for countless awards before finally winning Best Actor for 1986’s The Color of Money (the sequel to The Hustler). Other highlights from his long and varied career include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Hud, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, The Verdict, and Road to Perdition.

Who I Replaced: Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks

Nothing against the guy — he has had A LOT of great roles and is one of the most charming and likable actors in the business, but I would put him a cut below the others. I feel bad for removing Mr. Hanks, but the questionable choices from his last decade of work make it a little easier for me to take him out.

Now I am passing the torch to Chris at moviesandsongs365. Good luck!

Movie Project #15: Cool Hand Luke [1967]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

Cool Hand Luke [1967]
Directors: Stuart Rosenberg
Genre: Crime/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

What we got here is… failure to communicate.

Watching The Hustler made me appreciate the awesomeness that is Paul Newman, and I was eager to check out Cool Hand Luke, another well-regarded movie of his. I had heard this titled as the “ultimate guy’s movie”, and everyone spoke volumes about Paul Newman’s character. I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

Cool Hand Luke tells the story of Lucas Jackson (Newman), a guy who lives by his own rules and doesn’t back down from anything or anyone. After getting arrested for cutting heads off parking meters (while heavily drinking at the same time), Luke is sent off to prison for two years. At the prison, he keeps to himself yet somehow ends up in a boxing match with the much larger “Dragline” (George Kennedy), who is the leader of the chain gang. Despite getting his ass kicked, Luke keeps getting back up after every punch before finally his adversary walks away. This single act of courage (or just plain recklessness) earns Luke respect from his fellow prisoners, and many begin to look up to him.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

This is the beginning of a recurring theme, as Luke continually stands up to others, especially the law, and attempts to do things his own way. What makes him so likeable is that he is just a laidback dude who is always up for a challenge — whether that is trying to eat 50 eggs in one sitting or attempting to escape prison. He is a real “cool hand”, as Dragline affectionately labels him.

One thing that has surprised me in reading about Cool Hand Luke is that not many articles mention the significant amount of Christ imagery present in the movie. The most obvious example is after the egg-eating scene when Luke collapses on top of a table, spread out like Jesus on the cross. Another major comparison between the two is in the form of Luke’s name combined with his prisoner number: 37. Hence, Bible verse Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” It is interesting to think of things this way, and the comparisons are not far-fetched, as both were nonconformists who developed followers through their actions.

Cool Hand Luke [1967]

I can’t think of anyone else that could have played the role of Luke other than Paul Newman. He just oozes charisma here, making it real hard not to root for the guy. He is aided by an outstanding supporting cast led by Kennedy as his strong righthand man. There are a lot of bit roles here, including spots from Harry Dean Stanton and a young Dennis Hopper, with everyone performing well. There are not many women in the movie, which gives credence to the whole “guy’s movie” reputation, but the passing role of Jo Van Fleet as Luke’s mother creates one of the most emotional scenes of the film.

While a little slow by today’s standards, Cool Hand Luke is still a fascinating study of one of Hollywood’s great characters. Paul Newman’s performance is incredible, and it’s baffling that he didn’t win the Oscar for this. With a lot of great quotes (such as the one at the beginning of the review) and some truly unforgettable scenes, this is well worth seeing.

8.5/10

Movie Project #4: The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

The Hustler [1961]
Director: Robert Rossen
Genre: Drama/Romance/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

I am ashamed to admit that I know very little about Paul Newman. I know the story of Newman’s Own, and I have seen him in a couple of films (Slap Shot, Road to Perdition), but outside of that my knowledge is extremely lacking. After watching The Hustler, I can’t help but feel that Paul Newman was the fucking man.

Seriously, this is one hell of a character study that just so happens to use the game of pool as its backdrop. Newman is just amazing, as are the rest of the main cast: Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, and Piper Laurie.

As a small-time pool hustler, “Fast” Eddie Felston (Newman) has one goal: to beat the best in the game, Minnesota Fats (Gleason). After a quick meet-and-greet, the two square off in an epic battle. Eddie gets the upper hand early, almost effortlessly swindling thousands of dollars from his opponent. Several hours and countless drinks later, Fats takes control and wins back nearly dollar that he had lost earlier in the evening. Defeated and now flat broke, Eddie has seemingly hit rock bottom.

The Hustler [1961, Rossen]

It is at this point that Eddie meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), an alcoholic college girl who is full of her own problems. An unlikely duo, the two of them hit it off and build a relationship. However, when fellow gambler Bert Gordon offers to take Eddie on the road, things get rocky and the true colors of all involved start to come out. As much as the movie is about Fast Eddie, the stories of the other three main characters are just as important. With such great performances from all of them, it’s hard not to get attached to their characters no matter how flawed they are.

I enjoyed The Hustler quite a bit. Pool wasn’t as big of a focus as I thought it would be, and in fact the movie is just a fantastic piece of storytelling. I thought the first half of the film was a little slow, but once it got into fleshing out the main characters it became rather enthralling.

Two things I determined after watching this movie: 1) I need to watch its sequel, The Color of Money. 2) I really need to see more of Paul Newman’s work. He really blew me away here.

8/10