Tuesday, September 06, 2011

“What was I supposed to do? Call him for cheating better than me, in front of the others?”

Right, so, Real Life has been kind of getting in the way of working on a side project such as this for a while now, which explains the big gaps in updates. Fear not! I have something big planned to get back in the swing of things come next month! In the meantime, September will likely continue to have spotty updates.

Such as this one!

Regarded as one of the greatest con man movies ever made, The Sting boasts an impressive roster of talent and the awards to match, winning Best Picture and 6 other awards for 1973. And it totally deserves those accolades.

Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) is a talented but small time con man in Joliet, Illinois during the 1930s. He’s partnered up with Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) who’s looking to retire soon since he’s getting on in years. The two of them con a delivery boy for a mob and end up with way more money than they expected. Johnny pisses the money away gambling and he gets shaken down by crooked cop Lieutenant William Snyder (Charles Durning) who informs him that the money belongs to New York big shot Doyle “The Big Mick” Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) who’s none too pleased that a chunk of his money has gone missing. Luther is killed by Lonnegan’s thugs and Hooker escapes to Chicago, looking for a near-mythic friend of Luther’s named Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman). Hooker wants revenge on Lonnegan and Gondorff agrees to help him pull the Big Con on the crime lord.

What follows is a steady buildup to the Con that involves gathering a big team that includes Gondorff’s gal Billie (Eileen Brennan), the fast talking J.J. Singleton (Ray Walston), and the dapper Kid Twist (Harold Gould) among others. Lonnegan has a fondness for gambling, so the plan is to scam him out of a lot of money without him knowing he was even played. But things are tricky. Lonnegan’s no fool and while he doesn’t know what Hooker looks like, his men know he’s in Chicago. Lt. Snyder and a mysterious assassin named Salino are on Hooker’s trail, and the FBI are very interested in nabbing Gondorff at any cost. You better believe things are going to get interesting.

Directed by the very talented George Roy Hill with Director of Photography Robert Surtees. Its quite a testament to the filmmakers’ skill that while the movie was made in the early 70s, it looks like it was shot back in the 1930s. I don’t mean the period clothing and props (though that’s an obvious requirement), but rather the whole visual feel of the film. It feels like it was made right before the Hays Code (and in color).

Pacing is also marvelously quick and the audience doesn’t get a moment to breathe from the moment Hooker gets to Chicago. It adds a feeling of underlying tension and urgency to even the more relaxed scenes.

Written by David S. Ward, the movie fires on all possible story cylinders. The character work is fantastic. Redford and Newman work exceptionally well together and their characters have a mentor and student relationship with some interesting twists that play on the inherent paranoia of men who make their livings by lying for big stakes. Shaw’s Lonnegan is also very well realized: Tough, craggy, ruthless, but oddly vulnerable when the con begins. The rest of the cast are well realized as well and given plenty of moments to shine.

The plot also deserves mentioning, because its incredibly well thought out. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything more about it without going into spoiler territory, and that would be a huge disservice to anyone who hasn’t experienced this movie yet. Suffice it to say that its one hell of a ride and rewards multiple viewings.

The soundtrack doesn’t have an original score. Instead a number of Scott Joplin tunes were conducted and adapted by Marvin Hamlisch. It took a while for me to warm up to the soundtrack because ragtime was old hat by the 30s, but after a while it grew on me. The innocence and above all, playfulness of the music really cuts the tension in some places and in others reminds you that this is a movie and you’re watching it to have fun, so relax.

The Sting is rightly regarded as a classic. Everything works exceptionally and the movie demands that you keep on your toes while you’re watching it. Absolutely recommended, to the point where it should be required viewing.

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