Film review: ‘HUSTLERS’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Hustlers, which is based on the Jessica Presler’s 2015 New York Magazine article ‘The Hustlers at Scores’, recounts the confessions of strippers and lap dancers who devised a scheme to scam male customers out of thousands by drugging them to the point where they could do little else but hand over their credit cards. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria gives the story the Scorsese treatment turning their exploits into a Wolf of Wall Street/Goodfellas style story of criminal upward mobility and fragile comradery. Like those films, this is both a euphoric celebration and a cautionary tale of the addictive and inherently criminal nature of rampant capitalism.

The film is built on two terrific performances from Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez as the group’s ringleaders.   While a nervous new employee at a raucous strip club in 2007, Destiny (Wu) is literally taken under the wing of the more experienced and street-smart Ramona (Lopez). Like a more maternal Gordon Gecko, Ramona teaches Destiny the skills and the style that sees her showered with money from crazily aroused strip club patrons every night. With a voice-over that recalls Henry Hill in Goodfellas, Destiny recounts a riotous time of debauchery, big money and trashy consumption. After the GFC torpedoes the economy and the club’s Wall Street clientele, Ramona hits on the idea of fishing for lone males, bringing then to the club and drugging them. At first wildly profitable, this dubiously successful scheme, much like the financial deals from which their unsuspecting victims earn their bucks, inevitably becomes divisive and destructive.

Told in flashback during interviews with a journalist (Julia Stiles) the film conjures a familiar but still exhilarating story of economic desperation turning to ravenous greed and of female friendship in a patriarchal world.

Constance Wu gives Destiny just the right mix of neophyte innocence, charm and (later) hardened cynicism while Jennifer Lopez has rarely been better as she makes Ramona equal parts protective den mother, seductress, smart, strategic Jackie Brown-style working class woman and scammer. The film benefits strong supporting performances from the female cast who play Destiny and Ramona’s apprentices in the scam and entertaining if unpolished appearances by singers Cardi B and Lizzo.

The story’s trajectory is fairly predictable but Scafaria and the cast capture this sleazy yet compelling world with vigour, heart and humour. This is one of the year’s surprise treats.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Crime drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Lorene Scafaria.

Release date: 10th Oct 2019.

Running time: 110 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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