After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
Johnny Hooker, a small time grifter, unknowingly steals from Doyle Lonnegan, a big time crime boss, when he pulls a standard street con. Lonnegan demands satisfaction for the insult. After his partner, Luther, is killed, Hooker flees, and seeks the help of Henry Gondorff, one of Luther's contacts, who is a master of the long con. Hooker wants to use Gondorff's expertise to take Lonnegan for an enormous sum of money to even the score, since he admits he "doesn't know enough about killing to kill him." They devise a complicated scheme and amass a talented group of other con artists who want their share of the reparations. The stakes are high in this game, and our heroes must not only deal with Lonnegan's murderous tendencies, but also other side players who want a piece of the action. To win, Hooker and Gondorff will need all their skills...and a fair amount of confidence. Written by
Paul Newman had been advised to avoid doing comedy films, because he didn't have the light touch needed to play comedy. Part of the reason Newman wanted to play Henry Gondorff was to prove that he could play comedy as well as drama. See more »
The phone on Polk's desk is appropriate for the time, but it rings like a phone from the 1960s or later. See more »
This film deserved every Oscar thrown at it. It looks good, it's funny, it's extremely complex but doesn't dwell on the fact for a moment: if you can spot the twists, you haven't got time to sit back smugly as they pop up - everything rushes on. The acting's good as is the story, one carrying the other. I can't think of a movie where people so obviously had as much fun - maybe (Soderbergh's) Ocean's Eleven, or even Some Like It Hot? The soundtrack is brilliant too, contemporaneous Joplin rags evoking the time and its contradictions artlessly.
The bit that raises this film the one notch higher though is a short, central sequence, in which the music plays as high profile a part as any character or narrative aside. It's the night before The Sting and Redford is drawn to the drugstore girl who's trying to leave town. Perfectly framed by the bittersweetest of the blues/rags he asks her out for a drink - revealing his vulnerability for the first time in a movie where everybody's pretending to be someone else: 'It's 2 o'clock in the morning and I don't know nobody.' Despite all the caper and thrill of grifting all he wants is what we all want. It's a rich, compassionate heart to a virtuosic piece of film-making. 9.5/10
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