A film about strippers with an all-female cast and crew may seem like a gamble, but Gaming Editor Alex Green finds that heist flick Hustlers has plenty to say
Everyone loves a classic heist movie – a chance to get one over on The Man. Hustlers takes this formula and applies it to strippers extorting Wall Street executives of their fortunes amidst the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. Simple idea, but there’s a danger with a movie like this that any substance and meaningful storytelling could be lost in self-indulgence. Directed by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu as a pair of strippers who meet at a New York strip club and get together to use their intelligence and savviness to take plenty of money from their rich clients.
Given this setup, Hustlers has plenty of opportunities to take this rather usual film concept and apply a unique spin, which it does in many strange and surprising ways. It’s hard to say that there is a central premise or a guiding theme that drives Hustlers, but within that lies the biggest strength that ties in with the characters themselves in that Hustlers is a movie of many guises with a chameleon of a screenplay, giving the money a substantial edge and commentary and making the viewing experience so engaging. Switching themes so effortlessly, Hustlers moves seamlessly from explorations of manipulation and capitalism to the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, and even motherhood. The film engages the audience with that broad scope via its strong screenplay – this scope could be an issue for some stories, but the depth of these angles is never lost on the audience. That is provided through the disciplined direction of Lorene Scafaria. This is her third feature film, and there is a supreme level of direction here of someone refining her craft. Scafaria navigates these films without losing the pacing of the screenplay which she herself wrote or preventing the audience from observing moments. She gives the performers the space to act and never overplays her hand. The only real critique may be the film’s occasional overuse of montages to move the story along, using them as a bit of a crutch in the narrative. Aside from this issue, she deserves heaps of praise for her stellar work here.
Beyond this, we are blessed with a large cast of characters. Most of these are largely side characters, but the backbone of Hustlers comes from the terrific central pairing of Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu as Ramona and Destiny respectively, with Lopez in particular pulling off a multi-faceted performance that gives Hustlers a dramatic hook and a consistently engaging screen presence. Their relationship and bond are explored to their fullest, and the decisions they make as the story progresses feel truly important. Their value to this narrative cannot be overstated, providing a necessary emotional core and a pair of characters who feel nuanced and understandable. They provide the best scenes throughout, including a hilarious scene in which they try to cook drugs (resulting in chaos). Whilst the humour is sadly not always not up to scratch with a fair few attempts at humour falling flat, it’s not a huge flaw here. Technically, Hustlers doesn’t do anything amazing but credit should be still given to cinematographer Todd Banhazi for the film’s sleek look and Mitchell Travers provides some tremendous costumes with elegant dresses and high-end coats accompanying the characters’ rise and fall throughout the story in a surprisingly well integrated way. The editing is solid to help provide the quality pacing. It isn’t a movie of technical amazement, but Hustlers even then has a visual and auditory identity all its own, helped by a decent licensed soundtrack.
As mentioned, there are some issues which do prevent Hustlers from reaching the higher echelons of 2019 releases. The misfires with humour and overuse of montage are quibbles which do slightly hurt the film. On top of this, whilst the film does for the most part maintain its integrity by not being too overindulgent with the sexual aspects of the film, one scene in which Usher appears feels rather unnecessary – a cameo for the sake of a cameo. It adds nothing to the story that isn’t already there, and feels like a blunt excuse to have fun rather than giving the film purpose. It’s the only time Hustlers gets in its own way. With these issues, it does altogether bring Hustlers down from some of the truly great original filmmaking we have seen in 2019.
Having said that, these problems, for their faults, don’t take away from what is a tightly written narrative that plays on classic heist movies and uses them to create a thematic look at humanity’s exploitation of each other, both in the sex industry and on a wider scale. Hustlers shows us that we all have many faces and identities, like the strip club employees themselves. We can manipulate as well as love, we can trick each other as much as we can be honest and how the women who work in these industries are as human as us all. Any film that can do that is well worth your time.
Hustlers is a film with a large-scale story, yet one that is full of character and heart at its centre (in spite of its occasional slip-ups and missteps), anchored by a brilliant Jennifer Lopez performance and a consistent sense of direction.
Hustlers is in cinemas now.
Images courtesy of STX Films.