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In 1930s Chicago, a young con man seeking revenge for his murdered partner teams up with a master of the big con to win a fortune from a criminal banker.
For more about The Sting and the The Sting Blu-ray release, see the The Sting Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 19, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan
Director: George Roy Hill
» See full cast & crew
The Sting Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 19, 2012
There's a problem with knowing a film has a surprise or twist ending, especially if you are (like a certain reviewer is) a know-it-all who always wants to figure things out before they're revealed. This can lead to situations where, as with The Sixth Sense, a film's twist is described as so remarkable that any armchair sleuth worth his or her detective's salt will immediately start thinking about what it could be. (I, for example, immediately guessed the big reveal at the end of The Sixth Sense before I ever even saw the film, simply based on the basic plot summaries I had read.) While the ability to ferret out the misdirection and red herrings of screenwriting craft can provide a little (and often pretty momentary) ego boost, it also has the effect of being a buzz kill, especially for those of you (like a certain reviewer) who like to "announce" your solution just so those seeing the movie with you, like your spouse or significant other for example, will know just how smart you really are. That's why a film like The Sting is such an incredibly bracing breath of fresh air. This is a film where, in the inimitable words of a certain reviewer's spouse who is sick of having her enjoyment spoiled by her know-it-all husband, you spend the bulk of the movie not really knowing what's going on, which is followed by a devastatingly effective series of reveals that paints everything that has gone on in an exciting new light. The Sting is, for those who may have been living under a rock for the past forty years or so, a film about a giant con gambit, and the term "con" itself is a perfect indicator of just how brilliantly the film achieves its goals.
People hear the term "con" or "con man" and don't really think about it, since the word "con" has so entered the public lexicon that most simply accept the word at its face value as a synonym for "trick", without really thinking about its etymological genesis, which is a shortened form of the word "confidence". A "con man" is therefore a confidence man, a guy who sucks his "mark" into believing that he (the con man) has the mark's best interests at heart, only to later pull the rug out from under him and reveal that the mark has been taken for some (and at times all) of what he's worth. The confidence game works on two levels in The Sting. Old timer Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) takes up and comer Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) under his wing, weaving an elaborate con which will hopefully defraud big time gangster Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), a vicious thug who has had Johnny's former partner killed when Johnny and the partner mistakenly con one of Lonnegan's money runners. But on a completely meta-level, scenarist David S. Ward (who deservedly won one of the film's seven Academy Awards for his ingenious screenplay) is playing his own con game on the audience itself, leading the viewer merrily along into believing one set of events is happening, when the film's incredible denouement reveals that the audience, along with Lonnegan, never really knew what hit them. (Don't worry, no major spoilers will be posted in this review.)
A number of screenwriters have tried to build their entire careers around films with putative "twists" (need I even mention M. Night Shyamalan?). The problem with that approach is that viewers go into their films positively looking for clues as to what the twist might be, and when the twist is finally revealed, it more often than not is a crushing disappointment, even if it hasn't been guessed before the denouement. Any and all of those screenwriters should lock themselves away with a copy of David S. Ward's screenplay for The Sting to see just how artfully twists can be handled. I remember seeing The Sting theatrically when I was a kid and hearing the audience literally gasp at one of the major reveals toward the film's end. That sort of response hardly ever happens any more, either because filmmakers are trying way too hard to "surprise" their audiences, or simply don't have the craft to successfully pull the wool over the collective eyes of the audience. Anyone coming into The Sting for the first time who isn't surprised by at least one of the reveals at the end of the movie is certainly a better prognosticator than I personally have ever been, and the fact is there is actually more than one big "twist" that cartwheels over the audience in the film's smashing climax.
Any movie about con men and a con game is of course predicated upon the premise that something surprising is going to happen to someone. The Sting sets Shaw's character of Lonnegan up to be such an unbearable lout that the audience is positively rooting for his downfall. As Johnny and Henry both assume secret identities to help Johnny infiltrate Lonnegan's inner circle, things get decidedly more complex, and that increasingly convoluted plot arc plays out against preparations for what the audience is led to believe will be the ultimate "sting" of the movie, getting Lonnegan to place a huge bet on a horse race that is in fact a giant set up. The film is filled to the brim with brilliant supporting turns by a host of great character actors playing the assorted grifters Henry hires to consummate the con. Among the huge cast are such notables as Eileen Brennan, playing a blowsy madam cum pickpocket, and Harold Gould and Ray Walston as two of the main guys orchestrating the con. Also on tap are a delightfully dim yet menacing Charles Durning as a Joliet cop on the prowl for Johnny after Johnny bribes him with counterfeit money, and a nice understated turn by Robert Earl Jones (James' father) as Johnny's ill fated partner in the film's early scenes.
This film reunited Newman and Redford with their Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid director George Roy Hill, and if anything, the ebullience of that first collaboration is increased with The Sting. As with Butch Cassidy, Hill hired a composer to provide a rather anachronistic score for the film which nonetheless ends up working beautifully. In the case of Butch Cassidy, Hill utilized the talents of Burt Bacharach, who delivered a decidedly modern sounding score that proved to be one of the film's major attractions. With The Sting, Hill brought Marvin Hamlisch on board, and Hamlisch rather incredibly reinvented the work of Scott Joplin to brilliant effect for the film. This is really rather odd when you think about it, since the film takes place in the mid to late 1930s, and Joplin's music is a relic of the first years of the 20th century. The Sting also features brilliant production design and elegant costumes (try to count how many hats the men wear), and the entire film simply bristles with a joie de vivre that was rare even back in the seventies and seems all but impossible to attain nowadays. The Sting is a film that not only deserves to be celebrated, it is in a very real sense a celebration in and of itself. It's obvious the cast and crew were having a ball making this movie, and that sense of joy is palpable, drawing the audience in effortlessly, just like the elegant con at the heart of the film.
The Sting Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Sting is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Universal with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. While this catalog release will no doubt bring out the same cadres of Universal proponents and bashers in equal numbers that other 100th Anniversary releases have, it has to be stated that at least some of the "issues" (if that's even the right word) with The Sting have plagued previous home video releases and simply are repeated here. We'll address the usual Universal bugaboo of DNR in a moment, but what may actually be more noticeable to persnickety videophiles is this transfer's rather apparent softness, something that has also hampered this film's previous iterations on either standard DVD or HD-DVD. Some framings seem positively if very temporarily and slightly out of focus at times, and often times the far edges of the frame are strangely blurred as well. In comparing this release to the Legacy Edition DVD, these same anomalies are on the DVD release, and the Blu-ray either improves or exacerbates them, depending on what your particular reaction to inherent source element issues may be. There is also some minor artifacting that crops up along the way, notably quite a bit of shimmer and moiré on some of the cross-hatched suits the men wear (note Redford's tweedy jacket in the scene where he comes to collect Lonnegan's money on the train for a good example). On the plus side of things, there's an appreciable uptick in general clarity and sharpness (despite some occasional softness as mentioned above) and colors are especially impressive throughout this presentation. Though the film tends to work a palette exploiting mostly earth tones like brown and beige a lot of the time, some bright primaries like the red roses that Redford brings his putative girlfriend early in the film really pop magnificently and are quite vivid. In terms of DNR, Universal seems at least to be trying to respond to consumer complaints that it has been over aggressive in its denuding films of their inherent grain. This release treads a middle ground, where there's been some apparent noise reduction, but where fine grain structure is still noticeable. Will it please DNR-phobes? Probably not. But generally speaking this is a very solid looking transfer that may not have completely addressed some of the issues inherent in the source elements, but which is certainly the strongest this film has ever looked on home video.
The Sting Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Sting's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio mix provides a fun and consistently immersive experience, and it's also surprisingly fulsome on the low end of things. The track has some really nice discrete channelization effects, and there's fine attention paid to various ambient environmental levels and effects. Listen for example to the sequence where Redford first meets Newman, entering the vast interior of the "funland" where the merry-go-round is housed. Voices and footsteps echo very realistically through the sound field and once the nearby elevated railway passes "outside," there's some very impressive LFE that pans quite convincingly from right to left as it rumbles by the actors. Dialogue is very cleanly and clearly presented and Marvin Hamlisch's Oscar winning adaptation of Scott Joplin tunes sounds fantastic. Fidelity is top notch and dynamic range is very wide.
The Sting Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Sting Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
When was the last time you had fun at the movies? The Sting flies by like a pleasant breeze, despite running around two hours, and once you've watched it once, chances are you'll want to see it again fairly soon afterward just to catch all the little moments the lead up to the film's wonderful set of surprises. This is one of those rare collaborations where just about everything went right. David S. Ward's screenplay is a marvel of misdirection and fine character beats, the performances are all top notch, and Hill directs with unobtrusive but very effective flair. Add in the colorful music of Scott Joplin, and you simply have a near perfect entertainment. This Blu-ray will probably come in for the typical Universal catalog bashing, but overall the transfer is very solid, the audio is stellar, and while some new Sting-centric supplements would have been appreciated, what's here is fine. Highly recommended.
The Sting: Other Editions
The Sting Blu-ray, News and Updates
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