The Sting was the feel-good winner of 1973, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman and providing one of the most famous melodies of all time. It’s a movie that, unlike the two previous ranked winners Mrs. Miniver and Gentleman’s Agreement, doesn’t offer some important message or tackles a serious social problem but only wants to entertain and tell a good story – a goal it does fulfil, even if not completely.
The Sting gives the audience a lot of twists and turns, always coming up with new ideas and plots but the fact that it so completely depends on these twists makes it lose a lot of its appeal after the initial viewing. But thankfully The Sting also gives a lot else to enjoy – costumes, art direction, clever dialogue but most of all an inspired and entertaining cast that plays this light story with just the right touch of playfulness and charm. Robert Redford did receive an Oscar nomination for his performance but the truth is that, while all the actors know how to entertain, none of them ever reaches a level of thespian excellence – Robert Redford is charming and runs well but never more. Paul Newman’s role is rather secondary compared to Redford’s but he is much more memorable and amusing and knows how to steal a scene without ever stealing the show. The always wonderful Eileen Brennan shines with the little she gets to do and Robert Shaw is quite terrific as a mob boss.
Thanks to the cast and the direction it also doesn’t matter that, even at a first viewing, a lot of the storylines are already clear right from the beginning – The Sting does never truly surprise but it’s the kind of movie that manages to entertain nonetheless. Actually, the plot of the story becomes less and less important with each viewing while other aspects, little looks between the characters, certain words or simply the chemistry between Newman and Redford get more and more important.
The Sting is maybe one of the most unusual Best Picture winners simply because it lacks the usual feeling of importance that a lot of these winners have. It’s the kind of movie that maybe expected to receive a few technical Oscar but didn’t really try for the big one. This gives it a nice feeling of easiness, of being playful without being silly, of never trying to achieve more than it should.
Of course, it’s not a perfect movie and while the screenplay and the actors are far from average, the story sometimes lacks some life and makes you wonder if, even though the story serves its purpose, a little more character development or a little bit more interaction between the characters wouldn’t have been better. It’s a movie that is very easy to like and can even be admired in some parts but it’s not necessary to overrate it for being witty and charming. This wit and charm helped it to achieve this number in my ranking but the lack of various other aspects prevented it from getting any higher.