Classic Film Review: The Sting (1973)

And the Oscar Goes to:

The Sting, 1973

Directed by: George Roy Hill

Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw


This was, surprisingly, a lot of fun. Set during the 1930’s, The Sting was about a complicated plot by two professional grafters who try to con a mob boss out of half a million dollars. The operation involves faking a betrayal, a rigged horse racing system and even a few more surprises (which I never saw coming) along the way.

Much like the Oceans films, the plot is long-winded and we, as an audience, aren’t told everything as it’s happening, so by the end when it looks like it’s all gone wrong there’s surprises in store, and I found that to be brilliant. At times it may have been a little confusing as to who’s with whom in the scheme, with several locations, disguises and spies on both sides. The one pretty major dislike I had with the film with the lack of emotional impact, though, as both sides of the scheme are villains (they con a ma out of £11,000 at the start before seeking a bigger prize) and aren’t doing it for any moral reasons for us to sympathise with, so it becomes about the operation more so than those doing it. And the title phrase is the point in the operation where they’ve finished it, meaning we know from the start they finish their scheme, although it was exciting and tense towards the end as a lot of cards fall into place to make it so.

The look and feel of this film is beautiful: from the cartoonish placards at every different part of the operation, to the outlandishly brilliant music to the costumes and set designs, this film looks brilliant. The horse-racing venue they use is a fake, yet they fix it up (we see this in film) so well it cons the mob boss and me myself, it looks that genuine yet at the same time they manage to brilliantly leave it looking fake enough for us to spot. It’s a subtle fakeness about it, but enough that we’re surprised by the mob boss’ belief. The characters are also well written, with some emotional moments (especially towards the end) where friendship and romance become more of a thing, and them both frustrating the mob boss at every opportunity it quite amusing (especially in their card game).

‘How is he so good at cards?’

‘He cheats.’

The delivery, the writing, the scheme, it all comes together beautifully. And, not surprising looking at its leads, but the film is beautifully acted. Robert Redford (Out of Africa), Paul Newman and Robert Shaw (From Russia with Love) are all brilliant actors and they work so well together in this film, with a genuine chemistry being forged on screen between Newman’s Henry and Redford’s Hooker (that’s his name, not a hooker of his).

A funny policeman with a serious chase, the FBI’s involvement, brilliant schemes along the way to a grander major scheme and moments where the plan goes wrong before they have to fix it up all come together in this beautifully acted and presented crime film. The Sting truly is a hilarious, entertaining and tense film all rolled into one, its only downfall came with the characters, in the sense that they’re all villains so I didn’t have the same investment or desire to see them succeed as I would have liked. And they seemed far too confident throughout, which, while interesting in its own way, I would have liked a few more moments of doubt, as between their confidence and the title you know all along It’s going to work out alright, but those are only minor grapes with an otherwise thoroughly entertaining film.


Plot: * * * *

Acting: * * * * *

Writing: * * * *

Presentation: * * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * * ½

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