The Sting

  • Title:  The Sting
  • Director:  George Roy Hill
  • Date:  1973
  • Studio:  Universal
  • Genre:  Drama
  • Cast:  Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, Dana Elcar
  • Format:  Widescreen, color
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’ll get him anyway.”  — Johnny Hooker
“Why?”  — Henry Gondorff
” ‘Cause I don’t know enough about killing to kill him.”  — Johnny

“What was I supposed to do?  Call him for cheating better than me in front of the others?”  — Doyle

The Sting is the original caper film.  Without The Sting, there is no Ocean’s 11 or it’s sequels either the original or the new ones, and there’s no White Collar, Leverage, or Hustle either.  But it’s a classic that stands on its own two feet as well, not simply as the film that establishes a sub-genre all by itself.  The film begins with Luther and Johnny, two con artists, working street cons.  As the film opens in Joliet, Illinois in 1936, the two con artists pull a switch, but unknown to them they’ve picked the wrong victim – a numbers runner for the Chicago Irish mob.  Initially, they are thrilled to pull a $11,000 con… but then one of the con artists, Luther, is killed, and Johnny knows that if he gets caught, the mob will kill him too.

Johnny travels up to Chicago and meets Henry Gondorff an old friend of Luther’s.  Gondoroff gathers a group of con artists together and they decide to pull a con on the mobster they blame for Luther’s death. Luther’s so well-known in the con artist underground that everyone wants to help to stick it to his killer where it hurts — in the wallet.

The film is set-up in sections:  The Set-Up, The Hook, The Tale, The Wire, The Shut Out, and The Sting — each with a beautifully designed title card.  And each section of the film is exactly what it says, as the con artists rope in and set-up their victim.  However, what makes The Sting a great and memorable film is the surprise ending… which I’m not going to spoil here.  If you’ve seen the film, you know exactly what I’m talking about — and if you haven’t, it’s just not fair to spoil the surprise ending.  There are hints throughout the film, but it does come as a surprise the first time you see it and it really makes the movie.

This film also features a great partnership between the older, nearly washed-up con artist (Paul Newman) master of  the Big Con, and his new, young, apprentice (Robert Redford).  A number of  excellent character actors round out the cast.  Also, the film is set in the 1930s, which means great suits and hats but on the negative side — some very rough, inappropriate language.

Overall, a great film, especially if you are a fan of the caper film as a genre.  I recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle

2010 The Year We Make Contact

  • Title:  2010 The Year We Make Contact
  • Director:  Peter Hyams
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  SF
  • Actors:  Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Keir Dullea, Dana Elcar
  • Film Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Dual-sided Standard/Widescreen
  • DVD Formats:  R1, NTSC

“My god, it’s full of  Stars!”
“What’s going to happen? / Something Wonderful.”

The common problem with older SF movies is often their anachronistic nature. It’s 2010 now  — I don’t see a mission to Mars, much less to Jupiter. It’s easier to ignore out-of-date fashions in a drama, than someone using a computer that looks like it came from Radio Shack 30 years ago. However, if the SF film is a space-fantasy like Star Wars or resembling a drama more than anything else, like 2010, sometimes little inconsistencies can be overlooked.

2010 The Year We Make Contact is a sequel to 2001 — but with a completely different look and feel.  It’s not weird, hard-to-follow, visually stunning but character poor like 2001. The plot is straight forward, in 1984, when I originally saw it, this film had drama and tension, and seemed incredibly realistic in a futuristic way.

Watching the film again in 2010 — things pop up that seem strange (like Schneider using a Word Processor with a lift-up 4-inch screen instead of a computer, laptop, or even an iPad.) And the cold war plot seems really, really strange and out of place. After all, the Soviet Union broke up, when, in the 90s? But Russia, will always be Russia — any country that managed to survive even a little bit under the Czars… But it was weird to see the Soviet flag on the Russian spaceship and on the Russian uniform. I mean, I don’t think I’ve even seen a picture of it in over 10 years.

However, about halfway through the film, the Cold War turns hot — messing up the join space mission considerably. And the answer to the survival of both crews turns out to be cooperation. Also, the end of  the film is fantastic and awe-inspiring! It makes the film worth watching, even with all the technical “problems” (more along the lines of “oh, come on — tech doesn’t work that way”). And HAL still seems chilling, and strangely advanced, compared to any other computer in the film, or what I’m typing on right now.

Scheider and Lithgow are both wonderful, as usual. Watch for them to team-up again (previously) in 1979’s All that Jazz. Scheider’s a magnetic actor — simply because he never seems to be acting. Lithgow can do just about anything — he melts into his characters extremely well. Helen Mirren, doing a passable Russian accent, manages to be less annoying than usual (she must have been pretty young here). Keir Dullea of 2001, makes a re-appearance. Dana Elcar plays a Russian diplomat of some sort, his exact title isn’t spelled out. But his Russian accent is terrible.

The plot of 2010 is considerably less complex than 2001 (which no matter how many times you see it always leaves one scratching their head, thinking, “Huh?”). Nine years after the mission of the Discovery went south rather spectacularly — the man who designed the mission (Scheider), the computer engineer who designed HAL, and an engineer (John Lithgow), hitch a ride on a Russian ship to Jupiter to investigate the monolith, figure out what went wrong on Discovery, fix HAL, and pretty much find some answers. And they do…  ultimately 2010 is satisfying as a film because it explains the loose ends left in 2001 and has it’s own plot of cooperation overcoming Cold War oppression and stupidity, that works. Some of the other issues in the film can be overlooked. And it also looks pretty good, so that’s helpful. That is, the special effects don’t look particularly dated.

Recommendation:  See it, after seeing 2001 and boning up on your 1980s culture and history.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars
Next Film:  42nd Street