Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers is an intelligent, creative and deeply engaging heist thriller that could have very easily been simple, forgettable and basic, but strives to be something special… and succeeds.
Based on a viral New York Magazine article from 2015, and starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu as leads, Hustlers follows a group of strip club employees who unite to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.
Hustlers may have just cemented itself as the biggest surprise hit of the year. Many heist thrillers come-and-go each year but rarely do they bring something fresh to the table that makes them really stand out. This is where Hustlers differs completely. This is such a multi-layered story, not in a way that makes it complex but in a way that constantly flips the narrative on its head before it even has a chance to become stagnant. The plot is constantly moving and always on the go, so you never feel like it’s spending too long in a certain location or repeating the same beats over and over. Through each act, it changes the core focus of the story slightly and rotates some of the cast to keep every passing minute as fresh as the last. It’s a really cleverly written film from beginning to end.
Looking at the poster and from first impressions, this could have easily been made into a heist thriller with a barebones, cut and paste story that wouldn’t have had much going for it besides some occasionally successful humour and a cast of big names. However, Lorene Scafaria takes this story and turns it into something clever, intelligent and quite gripping the whole way through. She manages to tell a story that covers a decent amount of years in under two hours and in a way that gives you all the information you need without wasting time on boring sequences of exposition. The cast may be a major strong point, but she’s the unsung hero of this film.
Speaking of the cast; the ensemble in here is incredible, and they’re led by two fantastic performances from Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, one of whom puts in the best performance of her career. J.Lo, Jenny from the Block, Jennifer Lopez, whatever you choose to call her, she’s been in and around the film industry for a while but never really had a high-calibre performance behind her name before. That changes now as she delivers a performance as Ramona that is strong, convincing and emotional, and carries a number of scenes almost single-handedly. Constance Wu rightfully has top billing, but Jennifer is the scene-stealer who draws all eyes whenever she is on screen. Could we see an Oscar nomination for her performance? It’s not set in stone but I’d say things are looking good.
Constance Wu leads the film amazingly with her performance on-screen as Destiny, and also via her voice-over, adding insight to the events occurring on-screen. She brings the most emotion and heart to the film as a lot of her character’s journey is driven by emotion. The chemistry between Constance and Jennifer is electric and is exactly what makes the story so engaging right through. The development of their respective character stories and how their bond ebbs and flows is what gives the film an added layer of heart and intelligence that adds to its unique identity.
There are a number of supporting roles in here, the majority are very limited in their screen-time such as Cardi B and Lizzo, but some such as Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart get a fair amount of time to shine. The two of them have some great moments in which they grow their characters during their time spent within this group. On their own they’re good, but it’s within the ensemble that they are at their best as they are able to play off the dynamics from Jennifer and Constance.
From a technical standpoint, it’s a film that’s shot quite well and presented in a way that gives it a unique visual style to call its own. So much of it is basked in the neon lights of the strip club that even when the story moves away from the club, it still retains a visual flair reminiscent of being in that club. You can see the style spread through the poster too. I’d say it’s a visual style similar to a big and flashy music video and it really does work to make the three different act feel even more united. A clever and interesting thing is done with some voice recorders and how it’s heard by us as the audience, and I really liked it despite being a very small part of the film.
In the end, my only minor gripe would be that there’s one too many montage sequences, but other than that, Hustlers is a phenomenal heist thriller that transcends the genre. It’s creative and intelligent in its storytelling, it’s led by two fantastic performances and it’s a film that takes a chance to be more than just another heist film and it pays off. I’d say to definitely check it out if heist thrillers are your thing, or even just for Jennifer Lopez’s performance which could be recognised at the upcoming Oscars… only time will tell.