Hustlers tells the real-life rags-to-riches story of a group of strippers who made bank on the back of corrupt Wall Street types. After the 2008 recession left many Americans up shit creek without a paddle, the Wall Street businessmen who caused it felt almost no consequences for their actions. So, a group of strippers in New York took matters into their own hands. They began drugging men and bringing them back to their club to charge their cards like crazy all while taking a cut from the club. Of course, things got out of hand and after a few bad apples were hired to help, the FBI came knocking, and the entire operation was shut down.
Based on Jessica Pressler’s 2015 article ‘The Hustlers at Scores,’ Hustlers tells something akin to a real-life Robin Hood tale, albeit with more drugging and less community support. However, I’m not going to argue if what they did is wrong or right, I will say this though: it sure made for one entertaining movie. Told in flashbacks and asides like a neon Goodfellas, the film starts at 60 MPH and only accelerates from there. And while Constance Wu is the main protagonist of the film, that acceleration doesn’t start until Jennifer Lopez shows up.
She soars in this film, playing at times a loving mother and others a ruthless businesswoman in a twisted reflection of the men she’s conning. As Ramona she’s equally loving, kind, cold, and calculated at various times and none of it seems disingenuous. And though Lopez is by far the standout, Wu’s no slouch in this one. As Destiny she hits the perfect mark between naive audience stand-in and adept businesswoman on par with Lopez; though she isn’t quite as emotionless and cold in her moments as the leader of the operation. Honestly, neither Keke Palmer or Lili Reinhart phone it in either, however, they’re given significantly less to do than either Wu or Lopez.
Overall, Hustlers isn’t here to redefine the crime film. A group of people have a problem, they see a way to fix it, they take it too far, they get caught. It’s a simple formula but it’s effective and that’s no different here. What is different is that this isn’t a straight-up mob film like Goodfellas or Casino. It’s got Scorsese DNA for sure (look no further than the opening one-shot, which mirrors Goodfellas‘ ‘Copacabana Shot’), but it’s also got a style completely its own. The way it’s told almost as a living breathing news article, reflecting the story’s source, is just as refreshing as of a framing device as the story itself is. In that vein, Hustlers borrows its unimportant parts (like the opening one-shot) from great films but doesn’t rest on old tricks to tell the story. Instead, it infuses old and new tricks to create some wholly unique.
In that way, it’s equally a sign of the times AND already timeless. If you’re a J Lo fan, crime movie fan, or just want to have a good time at the theater, check this one out.
Hustlers is in theaters now.
Watch the latest episode of Movie Night with Def Pen below featuring, Hustlers.