The Magnificent Hundo: #99 The Sting
The Magnificent Hundo is a trip through the top one hundred films on IMDB. Why are they there? Do they deserve the acclaim they’ve received? We’re not sure, but we’re going to find out.
I’m sure there are movies — perhaps critically acclaimed — that you’ve seen years after they were released and you just were not impressed because they seemed so … cliche. I experienced this very phenomena when I watched Lethal Weapon for the very first time last year. It was a major blindspot for me as a film buff, so I had to watch it, but when I finally finished I couldn’t help but thinking, “that was it?” Lethal Weapon, the first one at least, is considered a pioneering action movie. But, I’d seen it way too late in life and so the things that Lethal Weapon had pioneered were filtered out and copied by every action movie of the era. The reason I’m explaining this is because much of number 99, The Sting, falls prey to this issue, but thanks to the extreme talent and charm it displays the film rises above it’s parts to be an enjoyable whole.
99. The Sting (IMDB rating 8.3)
The Sting, directed by George Roy Hill, is the story of a grifter played by Robert Redford who’s friend and fellow grifter is killed after the duo lift money off of a courier working for a crime boss played by Robert Shaw. This boss killed Redford’s friend (as as he was about to retire) and Redford is forced to seek the help of a seasoned con man played by Paul Newman. The two decide to pull off a huge con on Shaw’s character by making him believe that Redford (acting as a man named Kelly) has an inside tip on horse racing outcomes.
Much like my time with Lethal Weapon, I was struck by many of the tropes of the genre that The Sting originated. The elder friend dying just before retirement, the double and triple crossing, the young student visiting the mentor who’s rusty and in an alcoholic haze — the list goes on. I’d argue that the film being set in the 1930′s gives it more leniency that a movie set in a contemporary period (such as Lethal Weapon); The Sting can get away with feeling kind of cliche since its period piece aesthetic allows it to feel older than it is. The delightfully twisty third act still feels satisfying even if you use your knowledge of later films to predict the conclusion (which, if you’ve seen the Ocean’s 11 remake, won’t be very hard).
The story shares quite a few similarities with the Ocean’s 11 remake, but much like that film, The Sting is carried by it’s cast of charming rogues. Paul Newman and Robert Redford are always a delight to watch on screen, and together they make an incredible duo. Add George Roy Hill (who directed the pair on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and you’ve got the makings for a wicked good time. Robert Shaw seethes with anger and spits venom at anyone who crosses his Doyle Lonnergan; it’s a very interesting performance that makes Lonnergan feel dangerous in even the most calm situation. The rest of the cast is filled out with character actors from bygone eras that you may have some familiarity with like Ray Walston (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Dana Elcar (MacGyver), and Charles Durning (Rescue Me).
Another thing that keeps the film from feeling too cliche is the absolutely stunning soundtrack. Filled with ragtime music originally composed by Scott Joplin, the music in the film is wonderfully period specific, and stands out as unique even when the film does something that you might have seen in a newer movie.
I found The Sting to be a satisfying and fun experience. I can absolutely see why it would be on the IMDB top 100. It’s perhaps a bit long in places (the montage sequence is downright laughable by today’s standards as it lasts nearly five minutes and shows entire scenes, instead of the quick cutting montages that audiences are used to in films released now), and if you’ve seen any caper or heist movies in the last thirty years The Sting is going to feel very familiar. But, the incredible cast and the period setting gives the film a freshness that it’s successors may not have. When it comes to George Roy Hill/Robert Redford/Paul Newman joints, I still think that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the gold standard, but The Sting is a pretty great film in it’s own right. I highly enjoyed this one.