The Sting is a 1973 American caper film set in September 1936 that involves a complicated plot by two professional grifters (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) to con a mob boss (Robert Shaw). The film was directed by George Roy Hill, who previously directed Newman and Redford in the western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Created by screenwriter David S. Ward, the story was inspired by real-life con games perpetrated by the brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff and documented by David Maurer in his book The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man.
Following the murder of a mutual friend, aspiring con man Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) teams up with old pro Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to take revenge on the ruthless crime boss responsible, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). Hooker and Gondorff set about implementing an elaborate scheme, one so crafty that Lonnegan won't even know he's been swindled. As their big con unfolds, however, things don't go according to plan, requiring some last-minute improvisation by the undaunted duo.
Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford), a grifter from Depression-era Joliet, Illinois, cons $11,000 in cash from an unsuspecting victim with the aid of his partners Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) and Joe Erie. Buoyed by the windfall, Luther announces his retirement and advises Hooker to seek out an old friend, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman), in Chicago to teach him "the big con". Unfortunately, their victim was a numbers racket courier for vicious crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). Corrupt Joliet police Lieutenant William Snyder (Charles Durning) confronts Hooker, revealing Lonnegan's involvement and demanding part of Hooker’s cut. Having spent his cut, Hooker pays Snyder in counterfeit bills. Lonnegan's men murder Luther, and Hooker flees for his life to Chicago.
When Hooker asks Gondorff, a once-great con-man now hiding from the FBI, to take on the dangerous Lonnegan, he is initially reluctant. He relents, however, and decides to resurrect an elaborate and supposedly obsolete scam known as "the wire", using a crew of con artists to create a phony off-track betting parlor.
Aboard the opulent 20th Century Limited, Gondorff, posing as boorish Chicago bookie Shaw, buys into Lonnegan's private, high-stakes poker game. Shaw makes Lonnegan furious with his behavior, then out-cheats him to win $15,000. Hooker, posing as Shaw's disgruntled employee, Kelly, is sent to collect the winnings and instead convinces Lonnegan that he wants to take over Shaw's operation. Kelly reveals that he has a partner named Les Harmon (actually con man Kid Twist (Harold Gould)) in the Chicago Western Union office, who will allow them to win bets on horse races by past-posting.
Meanwhile, Snyder has tracked Hooker to Chicago, but his pursuit is thwarted when he is summoned by undercover FBI agents led by Agent Polk (Dana Elcar), who orders him to assist in their plan to arrest Gondorff using Hooker. Additionally, Lonnegan has grown frustrated with his men's inability to find and kill Hooker. Unaware that Kelly is Hooker, he demands that Salino (Dimitra Arliss), his best assassin, to kill Hooker. A mysterious figure with black leather gloves is then seen following and observing Hooker.
Kelly's connection appears effective, as Harmon provides Lonnegan with the winner of one horse race and the trifecta of another race. Lonnegan agrees to finance a $500,000 bet at Shaw's parlor to break Shaw and gain revenge. Shortly thereafter, Snyder captures Hooker and brings him before FBI Agent Polk. Polk forces Hooker to betray Gondorff by threatening to incarcerate Luther Coleman's widow.
The night before the sting, Hooker sleeps with Loretta, a waitress from a local restaurant. As Hooker leaves the building the next morning, he sees Loretta walking toward him. The black-gloved man appears behind Hooker and shoots her dead – she was Lonnegan's hired killer, Loretta Salino, and the shooter was hired by Gondorff to protect Hooker.
Armed with Harmon's tip to "place it on Lucky Dan", Lonnegan makes the $500,000 bet at Shaw's parlor on Lucky Dan to win. As the race begins, Harmon arrives and expresses shock at Lonnegan's bet, explaining that when he said "place it" he meant, literally, that Lucky Dan would "place" (i.e., finish second). In a panic, Lonnegan rushes the teller window and demands his money back. As this happens, Agent Polk, Lt. Snyder, and a half dozen FBI officers storm the parlor. Polk confronts Gondorff, then tells Hooker he is free to go. Gondorff, reacting to the betrayal, shoots Hooker in the back. Polk then shoots Gondorff and orders Snyder to get the ostensibly respectable Lonnegan away from the crime scene. With Lonnegan and Snyder safely away, Hooker and Gondorff rise amid cheers and laughter. Agent Polk is actually Hickey, a con man, running a con atop Gondorff's con to divert Snyder and provide a solid "blow off". As the con men strip the room of its contents, Hooker refuses his share of the money, saying "I'd only blow it", and walks away with Gondorff.
Roger Ebert gave the film a perfect four out of four stars and called it "one of the most stylish movies of the year." Gene Siskel awarded three-and-a-half stars out of four, calling it "a movie movie that has obviously been made with loving care each and every step of the way." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that the film was "so good-natured, so obviously aware of everything it's up to, even its own picturesque frauds, that I opt to go along with it. One forgives its unrelenting efforts to charm, if only because 'The Sting' itself is a kind of con game, devoid of the poetic aspirations that weighed down 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.'"