For a while there, Guy Ritchie was the master of comedy, but the real king of comedy in that era is George Roy Hill. Making a masterpiece of crime caper from a snappy, slick script requires raw talent, and Hill managed to pull off a surprise. He worked with David Ward’s script and managed to make a sassy film out of The Sting. The two structured The Sting into episodes, lacing the con into a layered mesh that hooked the audience.
The Sting takes on a quasi, playful comedic tone that is also a common feature in Butch Cassidy. In the grand scheme of things, this is a positive endeavor. The film is essentially an exploration of a lengthy con developed and executed by a duo of depression-era characters Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Henry Gondorff (Newman) as well as a team that was put together by Gondorff.
The mark in this film Doyle Lonnegan, played by Robert Shaw, pulls off his best. This is one of three roles for which he is remembered to date other than the one he played in Jaws and From Russia with Love.
The film kicks off with Jonny Hooker and partner Luther Coleman, both of whom run their cons from Illinois’ Joliette. When a numbers runner succumbs to a misfortune, the two come to riches, until Lonnegan, boss, hits back, hard. Hooker makes it’s out alive, but his accomplice, Luther, runs out of luck. He heads for Chicago with a bunch of Lonnegan’s thugs and a dirty cop in tow. He and Gondorff meet up and plan on how to end Lonnegan once and for all.
Most of the film is about how they execute that plan based on an old school technique called The Wire. Gondorff seeks the services of several men in Chicago and goes on to set up a fake betting shop. He pretends to be a local bookies and buys his way into a game in which Lonnegan is playing. He cheats through the game and wins causing animosity.
Like most other con films, this one features a great screenplay, with a light tone and blustery pace. The film does not go into too many details, but there’s plenty of uncertainty going around about who is backstabbing the other, which builds a lot of suspense and tension.
The film was a heavy hitter in the 1974 Oscars. It took the best pictures together with six other awards, one of which was the best director for the talented Hill. Like in many other con films, fans root for the bad guy, and this film is not an exception. It goes around your moral qualms by depicting Hooker and Gondorf’s mark as the bad guy. Besides, Lonnegan has not saving traits, so you will be forgiven for hoping that it is he who gets swindled.
In the same way, Snyder, who is out defender of law and order, is as inexcusable as it gets. On the other hand, the bad guy is seen as being upstanding, their only fault is robbing those greedy. This, together with the great screencast, delivers an upbeat tone through a great resolution.