24 January 2000 | Don-102
A Lightweight, Clever Throwback to the Big Cons of the 1930's.
At first sight, THE STING appears to be nothing more than a television movie. It is entirely plot-driven with no real stand out characters or personalities. What makes the film work is excellent production design and a delightfully clever plot filled with many surprises. The movie is feather-weight emotionally, but the depth of the "con" and the way it is fashioned by screenwriter David Ward leaves you with a pleasant experience.
This is more Redford's film than Newman's, who reunite with George Roy Hill, director of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. The legendary actors were more flesh and blood in that film, but here, they are merely players who carry the story along. With lesser actors, THE STING may have been a forgettable piece of work. Redford does all of the dirty work after Newman's initial "hook", but the omniscient presence of Newman, as big-time grifter "Henry Gondorff" exists throughout. A mysterious gloved character, a crooked cop, the FBI, and a seemingly bigger con-man "Doyle Lonnegan" (played by the late, great Robert Shaw) are some of the players who are involved in some events that seem to be manipulated by an unseen force. Is Newman as good as he claims in trying to clean out Shaw? We'll see.
The film is shot simply by Hill. No tricky angles or contrived camera movements are used. The action takes place simply in front of us. The production design by Henry Bumstead and James Payne recreates old-time Chicago through the use of built sets, matte paintings of a smaller sky-line, and some location shots. It gives the film an almost artificial look which is fitting considering it is a direct homage to the 1930's and the gangster pictures that so dominated that decade. The story is even furthered by title pages describing "the set-up, the hook, and the sting". They are turned like pages in a book, adding a drop of elegance to a crooked world. An iris is even employed in some scenes.
THE STING is definitely lightweight entertainment. It does not provoke much thought or insight into what is happening on screen. Fun is the word for this amusing little film that depicts a masterful plan for a big steal which would be impossible to pull off today. Look out for Ray Walston in a hilarious role announcing horse races and their results as they are "happening" just after receiving word of the "real" race results from a back room in the betting house. These are good con-men.