Winner of seven Academy Awards, 'The Sting' reunited director George Roy Hill and actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who first found success together in 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.' But as a fan of well-crafted stories, the real star of this film is David S. Ward and his brilliant script.
Set in 1936 Illinois, the viewer is introduced to the world of grifters, where not everything is as it appears. A bagman in Joliet discovers that what he thought was a score of easy money was actually a con run by John Hooker (Redford) and his crew. But even con men can get conned as Hooker learns when his $3,000 bet at roulette is fixed to lose.
Not everyone is as easy going about losing money as Hooker is. The bagman was working for New York mobster Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), whose reputation is worth more than the thousands of dollars stolen. Not wanting to appear weak, Lonnegan sends hit men after Hooker and his guys, resulting in the murder of Hooker's mentor Luther (Robert Earl Jones). Hooker also has to worry about the cops when crooked Lt. Snyder (Charles Durning) from the Bunco squad coming looking for his cut of the loot.
No longer safe in Joliet, Hooker heads to Chicago to find Luther's old pal and fellow grifter Henry Gondorff (Newman) to get revenge. They aren't killers so they devise a scheme to rip Lonnegan off. Many con men want to take part to pay their respects to Luther. However, there's an X factor in the plan, as Hooker doesn’t reveal Lonnegan's men and Snyder are after him, which could blow the whole operation.
Even though Lonnegan is known to be a cheat at cards, Gondorff joins his poker game and makes it known he's a big-time Chicago bookie. In a very funny performance by Newman, Gondorff insults Lonnegan at every turn, hoping his ego will be open to an offer from Hooker. Pretending to be a disgruntled employee that wants to take over Gondorff's racket, Hooker's talks of a great payday that will take Gondorff down, but he needs Lonnegan to help bankroll him. Lonnegan is interested but needs every detail before committing to team up.
There's another team working to take Gondorff down also. FBI Special Agent Polk (Dana Elcar) has tracked him to Chicago and knows he is running a con. At Polk's request, Snyder grabs Hooker to see if he'll turn on Gondorff. Naturally, Hooker plays dumb until the threat of jail for Luther's widow, herself a grifter back in the day. He agrees, but there are only so many people he can con at one time, so what happens when things don’t go according to plan?
Ward's perfectly plotted script is a thing of beauty to watch unfold. The stakes increase because he doesn’t take the easy way out. Lonnegan is a smart man. He'd have to be to reach his stature, and he creates complications as he looks out for his own interests. I'd seen the film before and know the story, so I kept an eye out for holes, but the plot is airtight. This is one of the times the Academy made the right choice, this script's Oscar was well earned.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal presents 'The Sting' on a 50 GB Region Free Blu-ray disc, along with a DVD, housed in a digibook that presents bios on the main cast and crew. The movie automatically begins upon loading.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1 Colors are very well done. Earth tones are strong in the opening sequences, and once the story shifts to Chicago, primary colors are used more and standout, as seen in the bright reds and yellows of the arcade to Newman's sparkling blue eyes. Blacks are inky but tend to get swallowed up in dark areas. Flesh tones are inconsistent, as an actor can look natural in one scene but then the facial hue can lean toward pink or brown at times.
Film grain is evident, but looks unnatural in some places, considering how actively it moves around. Focus is not always sharp. Some scenes this seems a source issue due to the soft focus of objects outside the depth of field. Then, like the scene when Hooker meets Gondorff, softness can be seen in Hooker's face as he sits on the toilet while everything else has distinct edges. Aliasing occurs on clothing with fine lines, like Hooker's suspenders, and a brief light flicker can be seen on Lonnegan as he wonders why Gondorff has kept him waiting at the poker table.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, which actually works against the film. The effects and music sound so good in high fidelity they sharply contrast with the dialogue, particularly the flat-sounding ADR. I would have liked an additional English Mono track as an option because it may have offered a better-balanced mix.
Based on Scott Joplin's music, Oscar-winner Marvin Hamlisch's arrangement fills the surrounds as the opening credits run at the start of the film. The piano rings out with great clarity and the subwoofer augments the metered thump of the drums.
Also making use of the surrounds are the trains. A train passing by the arcade fills the speakers while and the train Lonnegan is on board can be heard switching channels as it shoots across the screen. Cars also move across the soundfield.
This 5-star movie with two Hollywood legends hits Blu-ray with above average but slightly underwhelming video and audio presentations. Bonus features are interesting but light. Still, the film is such a perfectly crafted bit of Hollywood magic, that it warrants a hearty recommendation.