Lorene Scafaria deserves an award for most efficient filmmaking of the year, having shot and edited the entirety of Hustlers at the end of March of this year for an early September release. That’s not the only award this phenomenal crime drama deserves; Jennifer Lopez gives one of the performances of the year as the top dog stripper Ramona, inaugurating her character with an instantly iconic dance set to Criminal by Fiona Apple.
Apple’s hit record is one of a handful of shrewdly used sounds (others include Britney Spears’ Gimme More and Lorde’s Royals, as well as a couple of surprising moments of sound mixing that shan’t be spoiled) to underscore this fact-based story following a cohort of strippers navigating post-recession NYC by hustling their wealthy clients, drugging them and stealing their dollars.
Ramona is the head honcho of the scheme, taking lead character Dorothy aka Destiny (Constance Wu) under her wing, showing her how to mix MDMA with ketamine and deploying support for her stratagem in the form of protegées Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart). Completing the terrific ensemble of performers are Julia Stiles as an upright journalist, probing Dorothy about the scam in a wraparound narrative, and charismatic popstars Lizzo and Cardi B as money-winning employees of the strip club.
Stylishly realised, this is so much more than just a movie about strippers. Hustlers is a sharp concoction of the most pressing aspects of capitalist America, commenting on the unequal prospects of employment – Ramona’s interview for a retail job is a universal experience – and Wall Street greed whilst also enduring as a warm view of sisterhood and sly gender dynamics.
Tender family scenes where relatives receive their dream gifts highlight the goal for Dorothy and Ramona but these sequences never get too long in the tooth so as to appear like endorsements of a precarious lifestyle. In fact, everything has consequences, and Scafaria slowly ratchets the tension throughout the course of two hours. Hustlers hits hard – as both a cautionary tale and a wickedly vicarious one.
Hustlers is released nationwide on 13th September 2019.
Watch the trailer for Hustlers here: