Friday, September 13, 2019

Hustlers - Review

Everyone is hustling in Hustlers. Based on the title, that may seem fairly obvious, but the film is about far more than just these women turned criminals and what they do to survive. From the strippers to the club managers to the bankers, everyone treats money and commodities as the ultimate prize. The premise of the whole film is summed up best by a line near the end of the film: this whole country is a strip club, some people are throwing the money and others are doing the dance. A Fitting conclusion to a fascinating and fantastic film.

A group of strippers in New York City, led by an ambitious Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), lie, steal, and hustle wealthy businessmen when the industry stumbles during the financial crisis of the late-2000s. A journalist covering the story conducts interviews with one of the ringleaders (ConstanceWu) to try and figure out what happened and where it all went wrong.

The story is based in reality, pulled from the headlines to make this pseudo-Scorsese crime film masked in glitter and cocoa butter, and with a little less violence. However, where something like The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that showcases the lavish and skeevy lives of investors and wall street guys, is absolutely gratuitous in the purest sense of the word, Hustlers finds its footing in a far more glamorous, slick and breezy tone. Not to mention it’s insane balance of humor, tension, and mystery as the events play out and these women gain more and more power.

And at the center of it all is the phenomenal ensemble director that has been assembled. On paper, the idea of Constance Wu: The Stripper doesn’t read that well, but the actress steps into the central role, gives Destiny a grounded and natural performance, and proves she can do just about anything. Other members of the crew don’t get nearly as much to do, but performances from Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart round out the cast really well.

Then there’s J-Lo.

It would be easy to just compliment her entire presence in the film, from her stellar introductory scene to the very last moment of the film. To do this would be a disservice to the work she does as Ramona, the single mother who leads this whole squad to the prosperity they find. The character is inherently fierce and not to be meddled with, and it seems like Lopez may have been the only actress who could play her, and when you get a role like that, it’s nearly impossible to not command the screen and the audience’s attention all at once. Lopez turns in her best performance in years, probably decades even, and it's getting the buzz it rightfully deserves.

Director and writer Lorene Scafaria has kind of fallen by the wayside in the praise for Hustlers, but her work here cannot be forgotten. From the sharp and sizzling screenplay to some deft choices in the films structure, Scafaria gives this film her stamp. She presents this story through the eyes of Destiny, retelling it from her memories many years down the road, and allows the aura of Ramona, Destiny, and the other women to build, revealing more and more as the film progresses until everything goes belly up.

Hustlers is a crime film unlike any other. The women that populate it create characters that are hard not to love despite their growing crimes. Make no mistake, this is nowhere near a female empowerment film, instead focusing on what people will do to survive when everything is stacked against them. It’s a stylish, sleek film that exceeds everything you’d expect a film with this premise to be. Jennifer Lopez is rightfully getting Oscar buzz, but in reality, the whole film should have nominations thrown at it like one dollar bills from a sleazy businessman.

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