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Movie Review: The Sting

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Recipient of ten Academy Award nominations and winner of seven, including Best Picture, The Sting is widely lauded as one of the best films ever produced. Written by David S. Ward, whose unorthodox genius has produced such Hollywood hits as Major League (1989), King Ralph (1991), and Sleepless In Seattle (1993), The Sting boasts a superbly well-written screenplay, ripe with perfectly constructed dialogue and a plotline riddled with suspense.  

Directed by George Roy Hill, who previously teamed with Paul Newman and Robert Redford to produce Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969), it paints a colorful picture of 1930’s Chicago. Complete with gangsters, card games, illegal gambling, sex, and murder — what else could a movie lover wish for?

The Sting follows the life of a two-bit grifter named Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford). Hooker runs small-time jobs with Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) and Joe Erie (Jack Kehoe). Business is decent until they pull the con of a lifetime on a greedy numbers runner. Hoping for a few dollars, they end making off with several thousand.  

Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), the organized crime boss whose money they stole, places a hit on all three men that results in Luther’s death. Caught in the crosshairs of dirty cop Lt. William Snyder (Charles Durning) and a mysterious hit man (Dimitra Arliss), Johnny follows the advice of his dead mentor and contacts the best conman in the world, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), in hopes of becoming his understudy.

Gondorff promises to pull “the big con” (the ultimate score for con artists). To sweeten the pot, he promises to make the mark Doyle Lonnegan himself. Gathering a star-studded team of con artists, pickpockets, and grifters, Gondorff and Hooker set out to take Lonnegan for millions. Together, they set up a rival gambling operation in Chicago under the names of Shaw and Kelley. Hooker (a.k.a. Kelley) endears himself to Lonnegan so as to win over the gangster’s trust.  

Convincing Lonnegan he has friend at the Western Union who can telegraph winning horses moments before a race is reported, Hooker gets Lonnegan to place a series of winning bets at Gondorff’s gambling parlor. Under the impression Kelley’s goal is to break Shaw (a.k.a. Gondorff) and take over his establishment, the two agree to one last bet, with Lonnegan set to place a million dollars of his own money on the line.  

It’s a bet Gondorff and Hooker intend for Lonnegan to lose. But one problem remains. The FBI is hot on the trail of Gondorff, and they’re determined to break his operation at any cost.

Far ahead of its time, The Sting redefined the Hollywood plot twist with its ingenious organization of multiple subplots. Newman is masterful as the veteran cheat Henry Gondorff, and it’s well worth watching the entire film just to see the scene where he out-cheats the ultimate cheat at cards.  

With a parade of eccentric characters, well-developed sinister figures, and clever exchanges of dialogue, The Sting isn’t your typical sensationalistic Hollywood potboiler. Like a great novel, the film takes some time to establish its characters and develop its plotline. Patient viewers will be well rewarded.

Britt's Rating: 10.0/10

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About Britt Gillette

  • Bliffle

    One might point out that the plot was taken from the adventures of Yellow Kid Weill, americas greatest conman, and Chicagos own.

  • Stunner

    One of the best thriller’s i have seen. A thrill a minute ride