The Sting (1973)

“You see that fella in the red sweater over there? His name’s Donnie McCoy. Works a few of the protection rackets for Cunnaro when he’s waiting for something better to happen. Donnie and I have known each other since we were six. Take a good look at that face, Floyd. Because if he ever finds out I can be beat by one lousy grifter, I’ll have to kill him and every other hood who wants to muscle in on my Chicago operation.”

‘The Sting’, directed by George Roy Hill in 1973, is a caper movie involving a team of conmen, led by Robert Redford and Paul Newman who take revenge on a crime boss. It’s a return of the same team that made ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’, and retains the same charm and charismatic central performances. In this movie though, the intricate details and twists of the con provide both the structure of the film, but also gives a depth to the characters. It’s a film about performances and people disguising who they really are, and the fact that this works with a pair of actors so recognisable as Redford and Newman is extraordinary. The period setting of the film, Chicago in 1936, provides texture but also informs almost every other aspect of the movie from the costumes, the sets, the framing and movement of the cameras to the, perhaps overused, wipe transitions at the end of each scene. The period also, anachronistically, informs the score of the film. The music of Scott Joplin is used throughout much like the use of  George Gershwin in ‘An American in Paris’, but even though Joplin died twenty years before the movie was set this works. The music acts as an extra character, punctuating the drama and enhancing the feel of the con as a kind of game: dangerous but frivolous. I was slightly reminded of the espionage genre throughout this film. Like a certain type of spy drama, for example ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy’, this film revolves around misdirection and the satisfaction watching reality being warped in some way.

Would I recommend it? Yes, watch it either with ‘Butch Cassidy’ for obvious reasons, or with ‘An American in Paris’ for the similar use of music.

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