by Ian Morton
The 2008 financial crisis is such a complex web of intrigue and unique stupidity, there is little doubt that one day it will become a defining and familiar plot for the crime genre.
In 2015, The Big Short made the crisis the centre of attention with an engaging and morally questionable look at those profiting from the downfall of the world’s economy. Choosing to ignore the consequences of the crisis and focus on those high on the financier food chain, the story baited you into getting behind a villain dressed as an underdog and then promptly hammered home just what their victory meant for the rest of the world.
Unexpectedly, Hustlers functions as an unlikely spiritual successor to Adam McKay’s smash hit by shifting the focus from those that profited from the fall of the banks, to those looking for redemption and opportunity in the fallout. With bankers still the villain of the piece, the story takes a more street-level approach and tells the true life story of a group of strippers and how they capitalized on the slim few that remained to give themselves a lifestyle that ironically only bankers could have afforded.
At the head of this group we have the voracious and street savvy, Ramona, brought to life with a career defining performance from Jennifer Lopez. As leader of the pack, Ramona is inherently the strong motherly figure you would expect to see at the head of the table; charming, family driven and protective of those around her.
None more so can this be seen after a new girl, Destiny (played by Constance Wu), joins the strip club in which Ramona us employed. Taking the new starter under her wing and teaching her the secrets of the trade, it’s not long before the newbie becomes a fully fledged member of the crowd. As the financial crisis hits however and the industry changes, so must the group adapt in order to survive – whether this be by legal means or not.
Inspired by a 2015 New York Magazine article, ‘The Hustlers at Scores’, writer/director Lorene Scafaria uses a familiar story structure but in a very compelling way. Juxtaposing the past and present, the story follows the coming together of the journal article with flashbacks to the events that the feature focuses on.
There are often times that this type of structure can be the downfall of a film but Scafaria balances the plot perfectly, giving the leads their time to shine and focusing on all the right elements to make the film as compelling as it is. You ultimately feel for the characters, understand their motives and more importantly, sympathise with their plight.
Without a doubt though, the true strength of the film lies within the chemistry Scafaria manages to obtain between the films antagonists and the dysfunctional group of friends within their group. While Wu and Lopez are the heart of the story, subtle and authentic turns from the rest of the cast – which include Lili Reinhart and Keke Palmer rounding off our band of stripper-warriors and Julia Styles as journalist, Elizabeth – perfectly pack out the rest of the all-female cast and ultimately make the heavy hitter lineup of the Ghostbuster and Ocean’s 8 spin offs look like a bunch of amateurs at an art gallery.
While the trailer may trick you into thinking Hustlers is yet another Lopez led throwaway, the reality is anything but. Smart, plucky and distinctively female, this is easily one of the hidden gems that September often has stashed away in times of emergency.
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