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The Sting

These last few have been rough. Life of Emile Zola and Best Years of Our Lives were all right, but could have been much better while Lawrence of Arabia and My Fair Lady were just painful. So in order to cleanse the palate we have to hit up the old reliable 1970's. In particular we check up on the best picture of 1973, The Sting. In 1930's Chicago we see a mob boss send an underling off to meet a train with $5000 in his pocket to deliver to the big boss. The guy barely gets out the door when a man comes running down an ally with another man giving chase, yelling to stop the mugger. Out of nowhere a third man, played by Robert Redford, throws his briefcase and stops the mugger, who drops the wallet and runs off. The mugging victim explains that he was running casino winnings and needed to get to the drop point as soon as possible, but since the mugger knifed him, he now won't make it and tries to enlist the help of the other two. Through an elaborate slight of hand Redford's character, Johnny Hooker, ends up with the gangster's money and the mob runner ends up hopping into a cab with what he thinks is an easy payday, but is in fact a bag full of paper. Naturally the Mafia does not take too kindly to being conned and Johnny's partner in the scam gets killed. Wanting revenge, Johnny enlists the help of one of his partner's old friends, Henry Gondorf, played by Paul Newman, said to be one of the greatest con artists of all time. The ensuing con is fairly ingenious They enlist the help of dozens of other con men who all want to score one for their fallen cohort. They build a fake off track betting parlor and tell their mark that the western union operator holds up race results for a few minutes, calls Johnny with who won, and then he could place a bet on a race that already happened. Of course he works there so he can't do it personally, but their mark could help, if he showed a little cash. Eventually, they take him for half a million dollars, and leave him thinking Johnny and Henry were both killed in a shoot out during an FBI raid. The art department should be proud of this one. The set design and costumes did an excellent job of recreating depression era Chicago and both won Oscars. Marvin Hamlisch won as well for his soundtrack which I'm sure you've heard before, whether you knew what it was or not. Beyond that there isn't too much that's really impressive here. The acting is nothing spectacular, even with the all-star cast headlined by the Newman/Redford tandem. Harold Gould was good as Kid Twist, but he disappears for long stretches. None of the characters are well defined, so the actors never really get too much to work with, and in the end, I can't distinguish these characters from others Newman and Redford have played in their illustrious careers. Plot-wise, this is basically the forerunner to the modern con-artist movies like Oceans 11 and Italian Job, right down to the plot twists and the star studded cast. But also like those movies, this one is a fun movie, but not an impressive or even important movie. There is only one major plot twist at the end, and The Sting survives the bad plot twist dilemma of pre-twist actions not making any sense after the reveal. But in the end, The Sting can be summed up by the role it fills in modern society; it's the movie you see on basic cable late at night and watch a few scenes, but it isn't something that they study in film schools. American Graffiti and The Exorcist were also nominated that year. The academy doesn't give out statues to horror movies, so let's just forget about that one off the top. As for George Lucas's follow up to THX 1138, it's very similar to The Sting. It too is a decent period piece that breaks little new ground. The Sting wins out, however, because it is a little more fun. Wedged, as it was, in the middle of a decade when Oscar awarded one heavyweight after another, it seems out of place. But there's nothing wrong with having fun at the movie theater.

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