“This city, this whole country, is a strip club. You’ve got people tossing the money, and people doing the dance.”Ramona
Sold to the audience through the neon allure of a New York strip club, Hustlers is the kind of female-led crime drama that Hollywood has been struggling to make successfully. The vibe is more Magic Mike meets The Wolf of Wall Street than Showgirls, and Lorene Scafaria’s direction avoids the male gaze that would have made the opening act tawdry, introducing us to the hustle of the strip club through the familiar setup of a newcomer taken under the wing of a veteran. The easy cash from stockbrokers with money to burn creates a dependency that ruins the industry once the financial crisis hits, leaving the women desperate for ways to supplement their income. Based on actual events, the simplicity of the grift — drug a mark and then drain his credit cards whilst he is in a compliant state — makes the film’s mid-section incredibly repetitive until the gang starts to overreach and the wheels come off. Jennifer Lopez offers a surprisingly layered performance as the maternal mastermind, overshadowing Constance Wu, whilst Lily Reinhardt seems to channel the naive enthusiasm of a young Brittany Murphy in an amusing supporting role. With the story told from Destiny’s point of view, Hustlers largely skirts around issues of consent and victim-blaming. However, the parallels it draws with the predatory nature of Wall Street, and the hustle of capitalism at large, is a potent message and an enjoyable subversion.
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