The Sting (1973) – A caper film that provides entertainment of the highest order

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I can pick up The Sting and play it at any time of the week or any time of the day and find myself unable to stop once I’ve started watching it. It is an immensely entertaining film that it’s become one of my desert-island films. The film is near flawless. Set in the 1930s, it tells the story of two professional con men – one a charming, cocky and stubborn fella named Johnny Hooker and the other a charismatic and seasoned veteran named Henry Gondorff, with a mischievous sense of humor. Hooker comes looking for Gondorff after Doyle Lonnegan, a mob big shot sends his goons to kill his long time time partner Luther as retribution for a little con they pulled off together on one of his men. Hooker wants revenge and thinks that if he and Gondorff stick together, they have a better chance of taking him down. I won’t go ahead with the rest of the plot summary as it contains some satisfying twists and turns and going further would only spoil them.

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The Sting saw the pairing of two of the greatest stars from Hollywood – Paul Newman and Robert Redford – working with director George Roy Hill for the second time since the very successful Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which also happens to be a favorite of mine. But, I love The Sting more. Why? The reasons are plenty. Right from the opening vintage-style title cards accompanied by the Scott Joplin song “The Entertainer”, I was hooked. Newman and Redford couldn’t have been cast in a better film. Butch Cassidy simply wasn’t enough. They had to be part of something bigger. Newman and Redford’s display a fabulous chemistry here. These two can liven up a film even if there is no noticeable story in it. That’s not to say that this film hasn’t any.

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There is something so, I guess the word is cosy, about the film. The tone here is lighter compared to Butch Cassidy. Robert Shaw plays Lonnegan as a very intimidating villain whose occasional outbursts are a comical sight to watch. A poker sequence very early in the film involving Newman and Shaw inside a train makes me laugh every single time. He once again proves that he is one of the greatest actors ever. It’s a pity that he wasn’t nominated at the Oscars. The atmosphere, music, performances and the vintage production design, wardrobes and automobiles all serve to overwhelm your senses and what you are left with is entertainment of the finest order. It rightly deserved all the seven Oscars it won at the 1974 Academy awards. One of those rare instances where the Academy actually got it right.

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