The Sting: Review
Although they made only two films together, The Sting helped solidify Paul Newman and Robert Redford as one of the greatest buddy teams of all-time.
After the phenomenal success of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid it was inevitable that Newman and Redford would be brought together again for another film. Never before or since have two men generated such palpable “buddy” chemistry. For the viewing public their’s was a friendship for the ages, as true and as lasting as any romance between a man and a woman. I was just nine years old when I saw The Sting for the first time in a movie theater, and although I didn’t understand everything that was happening, I knew they were a lot of fun to watch.
Once again, Newman and Redford are men living on the other side of the law. This time they are down-on-their-luck con men pulling one over on a depression-era crime boss. Just like a film of the same time period, every aspect of the production is designed to emulate a low budget Warner Bros. gangster film. Newman and Redford are Cagney and Bogart, the sets are obviously on stages or the back lot, and the cinematography is straight forward without a hint of nuance. Had it been shot in black and white the illusion would have been complete. But without Newman and Redford it just wouldn’t have worked. Without their easy charm and oh-so-cool attitudes to distract us the clever production concept would have come off as merely cheap, rather than inspired (The Sting II). And there in lies the greatness of the film, the relationship between two men whose bond is so strong it is not explained or talked about, it is simply understood.
A friend once told me about the time he was accepted to the Sundance Lab in Park City. The was a group photograph taken for the participants and Newman happened to be there. Everyone sat around waiting for Redford, including Newman who never complained about his friend’s tardiness. Redford finally came along on an old beat up moped. Everyone took a pose and the photograph was taken. Just as Redford was about to leave, Newman approached him with a loud, “Hey!”. Redford responded with a quiet, “Yeah?”. Everyone watched silently as the two icons looked at each other, wondering what Newman was going to say. Newman looked Redford straight in the eye and said, “Give an old man a ride?”. “Sure,” Redford answered, and the two old friends rode silently, literally into the sunset, on a rickety little scooter.
Newman and Redford never made another film together after The Sting. They were of course very big stars individually, but more importantly they were wise enough not to spoil a good thing. They got amazingly lucky twice. A third time may have tainted the magic, so why risk it? They were two friends on and off the screen who had nothing to prove. They knew when they had a good thing, and the audience did too.