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USA 1973
Directed by
George Roy Hill
129 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Sting

Four years after the monster success of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and director George Roy Hill reunited for this Depression-era yarn about a couple of con-men, Johnny Hooker (Redford) a small time grifter and Henry Gondorff (Newman) an old school con-man who decide to take down big-shot racketeer Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) after their mutual friend is murdered by him.

Although as winner of the Best Picture (it also won Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Adapted Score for Marvin Hamlisch's setting of Scott Joplin's music) it was wedged between the adult gangster dramas of The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather II (1974), there is no attempt here to suggest anything other than pure old school escapism. The Sting is star-powered crowd-pleasing Hollywood entertainment at its best and unsurprisingly it was a huge commercial success (critically it fared less well for pretty much the same reasons). 

David S. Ward’s cleverly-plotted script is the armature on which Hill works his polished directorial skills with Newman and Redford effortlessly playing the likeable lads and Shaw terrific as the villain who makes them the heroes. The support cast including troopers Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Harold Gould and Eileen Brennan all add to the fun which is underscored by the jaunty ragtime music. 

Of course The Sting works best the first time around. Once you know what's going to happen the film loses a good deal of its tension and a little too self-satisfied with its own cleverness with the unceasing stream of con-artist patois seeming a tad overdone. Still, for that first time it's highly enjoyable.

FYI: For a darker, more adult but also cleverly plotted film about con artists, check out David Mamet’s House of Games (1987).




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