The Sting is that kind of movie experience. It works on its audience very much like the story it tells. Let's just say I spent the better part of the movie at arms length, thinking I might be missing something, rewinding even at times, only to come to realize that nothing was really ever hinted at, or what it seemed, reaching places you knew it would go (because it told you it would) but never, for a second, letting on to how exactly it would get there.
Everything works together here. It had to.
It's a classic story. Great Depression Era con man, Johnny Hooker (the most dapper Robert Redford there ever was), makes a big score, gambles it away, loses his partner, the legendary Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones), only to make his way to the best...Henry Gondorff (a more guarded but equally dapper Paul Newman). Hooker wants the big con, the huge score. And as the pages literally turn, each calculated move in the script announced boldly, the two, and their team of pros, get closer and closer to nailing their mark, the cold cheating Irishman, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw).
Layer after layer introduces us to more and more characters, all valuable to the plot, without us even caring who is in on it and who is not to the point that by the end, when it all becomes so clear just before the credits roll, we have experienced something all in good fun. It's a fun movie, playing as a story of gamblers and cons.
I chose this movie and my January Blind Spot, Rocky, for a simple reason. They are two 1970s Best Picture winners I just hadn't gotten to yet. And, when I think of 1973, a year in which I've seen four of the five nominees (Bergman's Cries and Whispers still escapes me), I am right on with The Sting as the right choice. The Exorcist is surely a masterpiece but one that I don't dare watch again. It's too much. A Touch of Class is a fun romantic comedy, but I am hard-pressed to think there wasn't something better that could've taken its place. American Graffiti is wonderful, but it's been too long since I've seen it. Maybe a tie between those two as of now.
Redford and Newman are a duo of actors made to work together. I can't help but think of the match between Clooney and Pitt in something like Ocean's Eleven. It's good-looking to see them on screen together, and George Roy Hill's perfectly straight-forward direction in combination with the Oscar-winning period art direction of Henry Bumstead and James W. Payne and costumes of Edith Head, the simple, yet deep, frames of cinematographer Robert Surtees, and the also Oscar-winning editing by William Reynolds, together make a film that screams CLASSIC in just about every scene. And that ragtime though. Scott Joplin's "Entertainer." Nothing is better. It's been in my head all week.
Sometimes movies are best when there isn't anything especially profound about them. They just tell a good story that hooks you in, doesn't let up, shifts seamlessly between what we know and what we think we know, and then just lets everything work out in the end. In my recent recap post, Dell of Dell on Movies commented that this movie is "magnificent."
I agree. It is magnificent. Very simply so and for very simple reasons. Sometimes that's all a movie needs to be, simply magnificent.