It was just an average 1936 day outside of Chicago for Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Luther Coleman when they pulled a con on someone. They didn’t realize the man they just got thousands of dollars from worked for Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). Lonnegan is the notorious con man who has a murderous streak when he’s cheated. When he has someone kill Luther, Hooker seeks revenge.
He finds Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), a much more experienced con artist who lives next to a carousel. Hooker convinces Gondorff to help him get Lonnegan. Together, with a whole crew behind them, they hatch an elaborate scheme to con half a million dollars out of Lonnegan. But Lonnegan is onto them, has men trying to kill them and Hooker left a counterfeiting trail for the FBI to follow.
From the moment we see Hooker sporting a maroon pin-striped suit, we label him a loose cannon. When he loses all his money in a single spin of roulette, it’s confirmed. Robert Redford expertly brings out the cocky kid just wanting revenge who’s in real need of the more experienced Gondorff. With Paul Newman playing Gondorff, we know we’re in for a treat. We first meet him passed out drunk on the floor, but it isn’t long until he’s molding the game around Lonnegan and keeping three steps ahead of him. I especially enjoyed the scene where Gondorff pretends to be drunk during a crooked card game.
How do the two try to put Lonnegan over a barrel? It’s more fun to watch and find out rather than to be told. That’s what makes this such a good movie, the twists, the double-crossers only too late finding out they’ve been triple-crossed. The surprises aren’t just for the bad guys, but for the viewer as well. How did George Roy Hill know I loved surprises?
I’ll be the first to admit, the movie can feel long or boring in the middle, especially if you miss a piece of the puzzle. You could get lost and thus, lose interest. Thankfully those surprise moments bring clarification now and then and can keep you on track. My advice; watch The Sting when you’re in a thinking mood, don’t just veg out to it.
“Sit down and shut up, will ya? Try not to live up to all my expectations.”