Friday, March 2, 2018

The Sting Makes Pulling Off An Entertaining Heist Look Effortless

If there's one ingredient that's crucial to making a proper good heist movie going, it's getting lead actors who are endlessly charismatic, the kind of people who can always keep your attention as they portray morally dubious individuals trying to pull off a big job. Getting Robert Redford and Paul Newman together to headline The Sting means that that pivotal element is already well taken for, these two are thoroughly engaging actors on their own merits and have winning chemistry together. The compulsively watchable lead actor part of the good heist movie equation has been well taken care of and thankfully The Sting manages to give this lead duo plenty to do in the course of pulling off a seemingly impossible heist.

Set in 1936, a clever year to set the film in since having this tale take place against The Great Depression explains why the characters resort to con artistry to make a buck in these financially challenging times, The Sting follows Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), a young con artist who's been behind a number of successful swindles lately but has trouble holding onto his money for extended periods of time. Trouble arises when one of his cons accidentally involve stealing money from Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a powerful crime boss whose now on the hunt for Hooker and will stop at nothing until he's dead.

With no options left, Hooker skips town and meets up with an older more experienced con man by the name of Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman). The two decide that running and hiding isn't the answer here, instead, they'll get revenge on Lonnegan by pulling off a big job that'll put tons of his money in their pockets. It's gonna take a crew to pull this off, but don't doubt the odds when Hooker and Gondorff are around. Once this plan is set into motion, David S. Ward's screenplay has plenty of fun with getting Hooker and Gondorff into all kinds of high-stakes situations that make the audience think there's no way our lead characters can squirrel their way out of this one only for our heroes to and up cathartically prevailing in the end.

Best of all, the various cons, both big and small in scale, Hooker, Gondorff and their team end up pulling off are actually exciting to watch and make sense when they're unfolding on-screen. This isn't like Now You See Me where muddled explanations and CGI are used to handwave away how exactly elaborate heist plans are pulled off. In The Sting, obvious thought has gone into the various con artistry, allowing the most pivotal set pieces of the production to stand up to scrutiny and make total sense in execution. This just makes them all the more fun to watch and also helps sell Hooker, Gondorff and their associates as professionals in their trade. Look how much just one facet of The Sting (making sure the con artist plans are cogent in set-up and execution) helps so many other factors of the film, it's like a ripple effect of sorts!

The script also has a good sense of how to incorporate all sorts of complicated factors in this elaborate plan (like Hooker posing as a jilted helper to Gondorff looking to help Lonnegan) without such complexities weighing the film down like an anchor. There's a fleet-footed nature to The Sting, even in it's most dense moments, that helps it become so enjoyable to watch. Much of that engaging nature can be owed to many factors in addition to just the script, including some deft directing from George Roy Hill, but I'd say a lot of The Sting's congenial nature can be chalked up to the two lead actors, who were reuniting for their second motion picture together after the hit motion picture Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

Robert Redford gets to play the young protege to Paul Newman's crusty mentor character and both actors breathe oodles of believable life into these archetypes. Redford is immensely likable as our main character, he radiates more than enough charm to guarantee that the audience will follow him anywhere. Newman, meanwhile, has lots of fun as a more experienced con man, particularly in a scene where he puts on a show of being drunk in a high-stakes card game against Lonnegan. These two and their excellent performances here are a major reason why The Sting is such an entertaining heist movie, but they're far from the only element here that's, to borrow some card game terminology, got a winning hand.

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