Top positive review
8 people found this helpful
All it takes is a little confidence...
on 13 April 2013
The 70s was an uncertain decade for the Hollywood studios, many of whom were hovering on the verge of bankruptcy in the face of declining audiences and stronger competition from television. One of the most desperate responses was an almost industry-wide appeal to nostalgia with a slew of films set in the Twenties and Thirties when moviegoing was at its height, resulting in a few modest hits (Paper Moon, The Great Gatsby), many big disappointments (The Day of the Locust, Lucky Lady, The Great Waldo Pepper, The Last Tycoon, Valentino), and a few outright box-office disasters (At Long Last Love, The Boy Friend, Won Ton Ton The Dog Who Saved Hollywood, Doc Savage). Only one was a genuine blockbuster: The Sting. It's not hard to see why. David S. Ward's ingenious screenplay perfectly captures the spirit of the Warner Bros. films of the Thirties, surrounding its superstar leads Newman and Redford and Robert Shaw's genuinely dangerous villain with a richly drawn and well cast rogue's gallery of supporting players - Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould, Ray Walston, Charles Durning, Jack Kehoe - who could have stepped right out of a James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson film. They're not parodies or sendups but perfectly realised scene stealers who all have something to do in the film's plot - or rather plots, since there's always at least two things visibly going on at any one time and a lot more that isn't immediately visible to the naked eye as well. It's that ability to second guess not just the intended victim of the team of conmen out for revenge but the audience as well, and unlike most twist-in-the-tail movies, this is one that stands up to repeat viewings to see just how cleverly the film misdirected your attention to pull the wool over your eyes. More intriguing still, it doesn't cheat - it just relies on you to think what it wants you to while at the same time constantly explaining exactly how it gets you to look the wrong way.
Better still, it's actually fun while at the same time being set in a wonderfully realised rundown Thirties (even if the terrific Scott Joplin score is out of period) that's far from romanticised: these are desperate times filled with dangerous people who aren't afraid to kill just to save face. It raises the stakes, increases the odds against our heroes and keeps everything from being too easy or running too much to plan while still relying on brain rather than brawn to get the job done. It's a wonderfully smart entertainment, delivered with real but unshowy style by director George Roy Hill, who uses Golden Age Hollywood conventions like the cast's old-fashioned screen credits and classy Saturday Evening Post-style 'chapter cards' while still keeping it at once modern and timeless.
Universal's Blu-ray edition is essentially the same extras package as the DVD, but that includes not upgrading them for the higher resolution format. The excellent 56-minute documentary The Art of The Sting reunites most of the key players with the exception of Hill (whose Parkinson's Disease kept him from contributing) and is pleasingly detailed, but unfortunately the documentary hasn't been enhanced for widescreen TVs, which means fullframe 1.33:1 interviews give way to letterboxed extracts from the film that look like postage stamps in the centre of the screen. The trailer has the same problem and is similarly presented in standard definition, with the only HD extras being a trio of new featurettes for Universals 100th anniversary that appear on some other titles - Restoring the Classics, The Lot and The 70s, the latter being the only one to feature the film itself. The initial copies of the Blu-ray came in a nicely produced 40-page digibook, though most copies are now in a standard plastic jewel case. The picture quality on the feature is a very respectable anamorphic widescreen transfer that has few of the more noticeable problems that some of Universal's other back-catalogue titles have from the studio's tendency to overdo the DNR.