Newman and Redford are a Shaw thing
Everything about the movie just works from the nostalgic recreation of the 1930s through to the pacing it doesn't put a foot wrong, oozing style from the minute it starts to the minute it ends. But what "The Sting" does that so many con movies fail to do is to allow you to follow what is going on as one twist follows another but at the same time keeps you guessing. It does get complex as one twist follows another but never to the point that the twists are pointless, they add to the enjoyment and all make sense when things finally come to a head. And that along with the acting, the energy, the humour and the style makes "The Sting" still one of the best con movies ever made.
Johnny (Robert Redford - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and Luther (Robert Earl Jones) are two small time con artists who find themselves in big trouble when they accidentally pull a con on one of the henchmen of mob boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw - Avalanche Express). When Luther is murdered Johnny wants revenge and enlists the help of big time con artist Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman - Hud) to help and together with a small group of fellow con artists set up a big con to swindle Lonnegan out of half a million dollars. But it is an elaborate con and with corrupt cop Lt. Wm. Snyder (Charles Durning - One Fine Day) after Johnny as well the con has to get more and more elaborate.
This may sound ironic for a movie which twists and turns all over the place but the storyline to "The Sting" is simple and basically is a case of small time con artist Johnny Hooker wanting to exact revenge on mob boss Doyle Lonnegan for the murder of his partner and friend Luther. But what makes it fun, interesting and entertaining is that revenge comes in the form of one long, elaborate con as Lonnegan is duped into betting half a million dollars. So we watch with fascination as Hooker joins up with big time con artist Gondorff and with a group of con artists lure Lonnegan in, setting up a false betting business and feeding him false information. But on top of this there is a crooked cop after Hooker and then FBI agents show up to make matters even more complex. As such "The Sting" delivers a twist then another and another making this con more and more elaborate whilst as an audience we are lead to doubt whether what we are witnessing is part of the con or not or maybe a double cross, keeping us guessing right till the end.
But the thing is that whilst "The Sting" is a movie built on twists which flow freely throughout the entire movie right from the initial con as Hooker and Luther end up accidentally conning one on Lonnegan's men it's not a hard movie to follow. In fact often we will get a twist and we are left to work out whether that twist is part of the con or not but then later on it becomes clear as it is explained. And it is this side of the movie, the fact that every twist is part of the story and explained later on makes "The Sting" not only fascinating but also easy to follow. It is something which many con movies fail to do throwing twists which end up unresolved but here every single twist has a pay off and we understand their place in this big hustle.
What also helps to make "The Sting" as a movie work is that it is both pacey and stylish. From start to finish the story skips along at the perfect pace allowing us to wonder whether a twist is part of a con before then serving up the next twist or moment of drama. And the whole thing is split into chapters separating the various elements of the big con so you know where you are and it works brilliantly not only making it easy to understand but also serving up some style. Talking of which every second of "The Sting" is stylish from the wonderful sets, the fantastic outfits through to the dialogue and soundtrack it just feels right transporting us back to the 1930s.
Of course there is another reason why "The Sting" is such a good movie and that is the cast which includes Robert Shaw as mob boss Doyle Lonnegan, Charles Durning as corrupt cop Lt. Wm. Snyder and Eileen Brennan as Gondorff's woman Billie. But it is Paul Newman and Robert Redford which "The Sting" is remembered for as they fill every scene with entertainment. They just seem so in tune with each other, bouncing off each other naturally so that whilst I am sure they followed a well written script it all feels very natural. And to be honest each play their characters brilliantly with Redford giving Hooker an element of a handsome young chancer whilst Newman delivers that seasoned professional big time con artist who is full of confidence and enjoys what he does.
What this all boils down to is that "The Sting" is a very good movie and for me the best when it comes to delivering a twisting storyline about a con. It manages to throw twist after twist at you without ever going too far and becoming contrived, instead drawing you into this fascinating and amusing elaborate con. Plus it skips along at a perfect pace whilst oozing style and of course featuring Paul Newman and Robert Redford on fine form as a couple of con artists.