The Sting(Universal Home Video, 9.6.2005)
In 1973's The Sting, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and director George Roy Hill guided their jaunty Butch and Sundance roadshow to depression-era Chicago to pull an elaborate con. When grifter Johnny Hooker (Redford) unwittingly fleeces a bagman for a nefarious racketeer and finds his partner murdered, he enlists boozy, expert ex-hustler Henry Gondorff (Newman) and a team of veteran flimflam men to swindle the kingpin out of a half million dollars. Yet the true mark is often the audience as Hill's shell game of crooked cops, federal agents, and mobsters supply subterfuge for final act slights of hand.
Hill directs as if he's staging not a film, but the same type of long con being perpetrated by the principals. On the one hand, we get authentic 1930s film techniques such as horizontal, vertical, and flipover wipes, iris-ins and outs, matte painting establishing shots, and Saturday Evening Post style title cards separating the pic into chapters. Conversely, the period costumes seem to be intentional exaggerations and Marvin Hamlisch's anachronistic ragtime piano score (from Scott Joplin compositions) recalls turn of the century America, not the Great Depression.
Scribe David S. Ward (The Milagro Beanfield War) lifted the central "sting" from David W. Maurer's account of a similar scam ("The Wire") run by the real life Gondorf brothers in his tract "The Big Con" and rode it to a Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Editor William Reynolds (The Godfather) keeps the action springy and his coup de grace is an extended, near dialogue-free sequence that tautly ascends before the roller coaster climax.
The washed up Gondorff is right in Newman's dramatic wheelhouse (The Color of Money, The Verdict), but he also displays the same tinges of puckishness he found under Hill's direction as Slapshot's Reggie Dunlop. Redford isn't quite his equal, but he does a solid job tempering his typically foppish screen presence with some substance. They both might be trumped, though, by Robert Shaw's gimpy heavy, as he exudes the same Ahab steeliness that marked his Jaws shark hunter and lends the necessary ballast to Hill's frothy anti-noir tone.
The Legacy Edition presents a tidy anamorphic 1:85 widescreen transfer, and rollicking rags like "The Entertainer" crackle in either Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1. In addition to the film's trailer and curt production notes, there's only the trifurcated "The Art of the Sting," which clocks in at just under an hour and has Newman, Redford, and others reminiscing about the flick's gestation, grifters in film and history, and the deceased Hill. There are some intriguing insights, such as when Ward notes how Hill nixed his suggested bluesy score, but the doc is also supersaturated with too many clips from the film.
The paucity of special features makes this Legacy Edition a bit of a bait and switch, but it's an even break compared to the initial DVD release's non-matted, full screen transfer and mono sound. -- Colin Miller