An Ode to The Sting

I can’t remember how old I was when I first watched The Sting. Probably around ten, though perhaps a bit older. For years, it became a yearly tradition: my cousins and I would all watch The Sting together up at our family cabin in the mountains of Utah. Why The Sting?

Because it’s an awesome movie.

(I’m assuming most or all of you have watched this movie. It won Best Picture and a slew of other Oscars in 1973. Paul Newman and Robert Redford stage a long con to cheat Robert Shaw out of a bunch of money during the Great Depression.)

The Sting was the first time I remember watching a film and just being blown away by the plot. The first time I watched in sheer confusion as everything that was supposed to go right suddenly went wrong, only to discover that I had been completely taken in by a long con of the movie itself. That type of film remains one of my favorites–any movie that’s smart enough to be able to say quite clearly at the outset, “I’m going to trick you,” and then proceed to do just that over the course of the film. Movies like Ocean’s Eleven, or The Thomas Crowne Affair. To me, it’s like a magician. You know they’re going to trick you, and so you resolve not to be tricked. The magic is when they take you in anyway. The Sting is awesome because it doesn’t even have to hide its artifices–it throws certain scenes in that make no sense at the time (What is Redford putting into his mouth?), knowing that we’ll forget them just a few minutes later–until it all becomes clear at the end. (Aha!)

The Sting is also the first movie where the soundtrack made any sort of a dent on my consciousness. It singlehandedly introduced me to ragtime and made me love it. I bought the soundtrack and listened to it over and over again.

The Sting was the embodiment of cool for years to me. The sheer confidence of Paul Newman throughout. How cocky and smug Redford could be, while still clearly unsure of what he’s doing a lot of the time. The way they dressed. The secret signals. It was all just so much fun.

Why did my cousins and I keep watching it year after year? I think it was because (honestly) it was complex enough that we didn’t get it. With each repeat viewing, we’d get a bit more. Understand another angle. But most importantly, we had younger cousins–The Sting was the first movie I would watch again with new people just to see how they reacted when the finale came at last.

As I start my fourth draft of GET CUPID, I’m taking the time to delve back into heist/caper movies again, and my love for the genre all goes back to The Sting and that first time I watched it. Every time I start to watch another caper, it’s because I want to recapture that feeling I had more than twenty years ago.

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