Looking back at The Sting
Now out on Blu-ray as part of Universal’s 100th anniversary celebrations, The Sting remains a classic period drama. Glen takes a timely look back...
I covered The Sting a while back in a piece I wrote about the 70s being the best decade for the best picture at the Academy Awards. I was delighted, therefore, when it was announced that the film would be released on Blu-ray as part of Universal’s 100th anniversary celebrations.
The Sting sees two grafters, Johnny and Henry (played by Robert Redford and Paul Newman respectively) team up to con a mob boss, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). It’s a familiar set up, but the class of The Sting’s execution elevates it over similar pictures. Set in 1936, it boasts a beautiful period aesthetic which immerses you in the setting, and shows little sign of the fact that it was filmed on the Universal back lot.
The Sting is broken up with title cards separating each section, which in turn breaks down the key elements of the sting itself, so you’ve got every detail into how the operation comes together.
There’s a sense of fun and breeziness to the early stages, but the tension soon ramps up as the stakes become apparent, and you’re fully aware that the slightest mistake could lead to the failure of the operation – and Johnny and Henry’s death if they’re found out. The tension in the latter third is almost unbearable, as twist upon twist is unveiled until the finale leaves you breathless. It’s a master class in storytelling, directing and indeed acting. It’s one of those films where everything comes together perfectly – there really isn’t a weak link here.
The chemistry between Newman and Redford is amazing throughout; both have a similar kind of effortless, rough around the edges charm that makes them absolutely perfect for playing two con men. When you consider that their mark is played by Robert Shaw, that's one hell of a starring trio right there, but the rest of the cast is filled with quality character actors who all contribute greatly to the film.
When discussing classic director and actor collaborations, many point to the likes of Scorsese and De Niro, but rarely do George Roy Hill and Paul Newman get a mention. This is outrageous, considering the pair collaborated on three great films between 1969 and 1977: Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, The Sting and Slap Shot. All very different films, but all great ones, each exploring different aspects of American history and life. The same could also be said about Robert Redford, as he also started in Butch Cassidy and The Sting, and would also collaborate with Hill on The Great Waldo Pepper. All, of course, have extensive bodies of work outside of this collaboration, but the aforementioned films are unquestionably highlights in their respective careers.
The Sting is an all time classic movie, a masterpiece of cinema that came out of an incredibly rich period in the medium’s history. It’s one that doesn’t seem to have aged a day since it was made, which is helped considerably with how fantastic it looks on Blu-ray.
You can see the influence The Sting has had on any number of films and filmmakers over the years, and how the performances of Newman and Redford inspired many actors, too. Watching Redford here, it’s clear that Brad Pitt’s acting style and mannerisms are heavily influenced by the great actor.
It may sound as though I’m gushing, but when looking back at a film of this calibre, there’s no other option. There’s no sense looking for flaws when flaws aren’t there, and in my opinion, The Sting is one of a few flawless films that should be seen and owned by any self respecting cinephile.