Robert Shaw has a certain screen presence where he just tears into a scene. Shaw honestly has a lot of fun with the role while keeping his performance being entirely serious. Whether it is his Irish accent that only amplifies Lonnegan's characterizations as a hard Irish mobster. He also even incorporates his own personal injury into again suggesting a bit of history of the man by playing Lonnegan a man with a limp, he just adds so much with these smaller elements in his performance. Robert Shaw technically is doing a quite of lot of "acting" here but he has deadly conviction in the role making it so, just like all my favorite actors, it is a completely invisible.
Lonnegan is a fairly small role, and really does get have all that much to say, but Shaw makes the most every moments he has. This particularly true in the scene where he plays cards with Gondorff as they both try to out cheat each other to win the game. Shaw is the master of the deadly stare, and he is brilliant in the way he shows just how much anger he is cooking up inside himself. When Gondorff repeatedly beats him Shaw conveys that level of disgust in Lonnegan in his steely eyes, and that violence is cooking right beneath his surface. When Lonnegan finally forcible corrects Gondorff on the correct pronunciation of his last name the intensity in Shaw's performance is incredible.
For a harsh villain one needs to look no further than to Robert Shaw for cold brutality never is portrayed by anyone more naturally than Robert Shaw. In one of the earliest scenes with Lonnegan he casually orders the murders of two people, as well as just as casually remarks to one of his men that if those two men are not killed he will have to kill far more people to retain his power. Shaw is brilliant in delivery such unabashed cruelty in Lonnegan. There is not even a second thought in his head about the situation he is just going to have them killed. Shaw shows this as just business as usual something that Lonnegan is very use to by now, and any hesitations would make things bad for business.
In the actual process of the Sting almost everyone around Lonnegan is playing some sort of game, acting out a part, or playing up some sort of angle to set up Lonnegan for the Sting. Shaw is right in the center of it all and he plays a very important role as the mark, because he stands as the man who is acting in a completely honest fashion oddly enough. Shaw therefore gives a very realistic performance here, and his reactions through the process are spot on. This is very important to the film as Shaw runs the fine line of showing Lonnegan going along with the Sting, but as well there is a incisive way in the way he looks that properly suggests at any moment the Sting could be kaput.
This is a great performance by Robert Shaw, as the role of Lonnegan could have been easily eaten whole by the purposefully more flamboyant performances of the con artists. Shaw never allows this to happen instead he successfully steals scenes (from Redford) or perfectly shares scenes (with Newman) as the villain of the piece. Shaw simple sinks his teeth into this part in a way that most other actors would not have been able to do. If there is one reason more than any other why Robert Shaw is one of my five favorite actors is that he makes me just love to watch him act in a way that very few actors do. I love watching his performance here which absolutely makes Doyle Lonnegan a villain you love to hate.