For all its Oscars (seven, including Best Picture) this second collaboration between Robert Redford, Paul Newman and director George Roy Hill has been overshadowed by their more-iconic first, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (those hats, those six-shooters, that freeze-frame ending).
If anything, that’s a testament to the staying power of cowboys versus the grinning conmen the pair play here. It’s certainly no judgement on The Sting itself, a masterfully smooth grift that’s built on golden-age savvy but never feels like a rose-tinted throwback.
At the centre of it all is the glorious reunion of Newman and Redford, here teamed up against Robert Shaw’s vicious crime boss. The Sting is full of the accomplished ease and white-toothed star power that Steven Soderbergh successfully captured in Ocean’s Eleven (the charms and payoffs of which owe far more to Hill’s film than the Rat Pack original).
But even armed with George Clooney and Brad Pitt, Soderbergh couldn’t match The Sting’s devastating combo. There’s simply too much of them – Newman’s impossible blue eyes, Redford’s inhumanly blond hair. Alone, they swagger. Together, they’re a dream, a rattling mix of Newman’s old-time charisma and Redford’s fresh-faced determination.
Not that there was much of a gap between them – a mere 11 years separate Newman’s master scammer from his apprentice. But in the shifting sands of the early ’70s, those 11 years meant an era and a different way of making movies.
Their mix of styles and significance – Redford, the soon-to-be poster boy for ’70s cinema (and, beyond, the Sundance new wave), Newman the studio survivor – add to The Sting’s sense of historical place.
The film is both timeless and oddly out of time: made in 1973 and very much a part of the creatively free-wheeling New Hollywood, it’s set during the Depression-era ’30s – those baggy-trousered pinstripes giving Newman and Redford the look of pre-war contract players – and shot largely on the Universal lot.
The result is a slick, winning blend of industrial artifice with the restless creative edge of the new decade. And it’s a true one-off: compare it to the films Redford would make soon afterwards – shadowy conspiracy thrillers All The President’s Men and Three Days Of The Condor – and The Sting’s too-bright backstreet sets and blustering performances (Newman’s gin-sop poker routine is almost too big for the movie) are from another world, one that’s always worth revisiting.
Extras include the 2005 hour-long doc The Art Of The Sting, plus featurettes bigging up Universal’s 100th birthday.