When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, everybody was affected. Even the bankers themselves had to cut back, no more excessive nights of partying, which hurt the dancers working in the clubs these men frequented. But when the stock markets began to recover, and the men started to reappear, an enterprising group of women decided it was their turn to make some real money.
Inspired by a true story - and covered in the New York Magazine article: "The Hustlers at Scores" - Hustlers follows a group (or should I say crew) of exotic dancers who would seduce and drug wealthy men in order to rack up large bills on their credit cards, in strip clubs throughout New York city. The group would then get a percentage of whatever the men spent in the clubs, and the men would wake up totally unaware of what had happened - until the credit card bill arrived anyway. As a criminal enterprise this is genius, albeit a little scary for the wealthier among us, but as a movie it's a lot of fun. After all, who doesn't love a good underdog story? Especially when it's a bunch of bankers getting their comeuppance.
Leading the group are Jennifer Lopez's 'Ramona' and Constance Wu's 'Destiny'. These two are tough as nails, and they've got the brains and determination to match. Lopez and Wu go together perfectly - for Lopez, it's her best performance since 'Out of Sight' - and if their performances are in any way close to the real women that inspired them, it's no surprise that they were able to con so many men out of their money. Very much in the same position as the audience is Elizabeth (Julia Stiles), a journalist interviewing Destiny for a story about the ladies and their escapades. At times, the look on Stiles' face perfectly portrays what most audience members will be thinking, as Destiny tells her story in an almost blasé fashion. Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart bring some interesting humour to their roles as the other members of the team, but brief appearances by Cardi B and Lizzo serve little purpose and go almost unnoticed. However, it's Wai Ching Ho who provides the best supporting performance, she plays Destiny's cheeky grandmother and is clearly having a lot of fun.
With Hustlers, writer/director Lorene Scafaria shows that there's a lot more to the women of the world of exotic dancing - not to mention the world itself - than just dancing. In fact it's quite a "warts and all" type look at the industry, and all the crap that these women have to endure in order to make a living. Which makes it all the more fun to see Ramona, Destiny and their crew mates pull the wool over the eyes of men who mostly treat them like objects to be played with. But Scafaria isn't afraid to acknowledge the morality of the situation. It's easy to say "oh well, they were targeting bankers who probably deserved it". However, innocent people were inevitably caught in the crossfire, and the way our modern day Robin Hoods react to this is as varied as it is genuine. Success and greed can have an interesting effect on us - especially when it comes to our conscience.
Lorene Scafaria's look into this world goes far enough to give the audience an idea of what it's like, without being gratuitous. This tale of a unique band of criminals is a lot fun, but isn't afraid to confront the morality of it all. Hustlers is the type of (almost unbelievable) crime drama that whilst entertaining, will make you question certain choices - like whether to visit a strip club.
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