The Sting works endearingly without a single hitch. George Roy Hill's film concerns conmanship in Chicago in the thirties, and the exploits of a few independent confidence men banding together against a big gang boss and his henchmen. This is one of those precarious movies in which murder must look absurd or funny—except in one case, where it has been taken seriously—and it is to Hill's and his scenarist's, David S. Ward's, credit that they just about carry off this colossally queasy task. It must be said right away that certain plot elements in these cinematic rodomontades are bound to be unbelievable; the question is merely to what extent the filmmakers, con artists in their own right, can carry off the caper without allowing us time to unsuspend our disbelief. The main tools at their disposal are surprise, wit, credibility in trappings and details, fast pacing, and good performances. The Sting possesses them all.
Sets, costumes, and locations could not look more authentic…. The plot has more twists to it than a boa constrictor taking its constitutional, and even if you guess something correctly, you are made to abandon your hypothesis only to have it prove right after all, and so have been had, anyhow. There are funny lines and situations throughout, and no pretensions whatsoever. Well integrated subplots fill in the gaps of the main plot, and Hill has a good sense of camera placement for getting bustle or moodiness into a shot. (p. 134)
John Simon, "Cops, Crooks, and Cryogenics" (originally published in Esquire, Vol. LXXXI, No. 3, March, 1974), in his Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Film (copyright © 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 by John Simon; used by permission of Crown Publishers, Inc.), Clarkson N. Potter, Inc./Publishers, 1982, pp. 131-35.∗