Sunday, 17 November 2019

Hustlers ★★★★★

Isn’t it funny how cinema can surprise you? From all my years as a critic, I have learned one thing – you cannot judge a book by its cover, or rather, a film by its poster. While films like The Goldfinch turn out to be unmitigated disasters when I would’ve comfortably put money on them being Oscar frontrunners, films that look dreadful swoop in and jump straight up my ‘best of the year’ list. It’s made me a better critic – ie. I no longer go into films with preconceived notions that I will hate them if they look rubbish. Because sometimes, they might be Hustlers.

Working as a stripper to make ends meet, Destiny's (Constance Wu) life changes forever when she becomes friends with Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) - the club's top money earner. Ramona soon shows Destiny how to finagle her way around the wealthy Wall Street clientele who frequent the club. But when the 2008 economic collapse cuts into their profits, the gals and two other dancers devise a daring scheme to take their lives back…

Sure, on the surface, Hustlers looks like any of the previously released ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’ films like Widows, The Kitchen and Ocean’s Eight. But what Hustlers brings to the table is a fun, thrilling and downright sexy romp the likes of which have not been seen for a long time. This visually stunning and exciting film may be based around strippers and yet it is presented in a way that is not exploitive – director Lorene Scafaria makes the world of Hustlers empowering and feminist in a way that feels real and powerful, not in a forced way like recent disappointment The Kitchen. 

The cast here are on phenomenal form with Jennifer Lopez delivering the finest performance of her illustrious career. After a few years playing crooked cop Harlee Santos on TV’s criminally underrated Shades of Blue, J-Lo sure knows her way around a complex and layered character. With a great abundance of swagger and magnetism, J-Lo commands the screen in every scene and delivers a performance that could easily be an Oscar frontrunner come 2020. Fresh off the Boat’s Constance Wu also impresses enormously, and a supporting cast including Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart are also excellent.

The film’s visuals also pack a hell of a punch, with the seedy clubs and nightlife a character in themselves. Todd Banhazl’s cinematography transports us into this underbelly and makes us feel truly part of this world, which is a ruthless and dark place – and yet, the film still retains a sense of good old-fashioned fun. While we are spending time in an often frightening world onscreen, we are in good company with some of the strongest and toughest female characters written in some time – something else we can thank director Lorene Scafaria for, who also penned the screenplay.

Hustlers is absolutely one of the 2019’s finest and one that I wouldn’t be surprised to see picking up some real interest come awards season. Boasting a phenomenal ensemble cast, an exciting and thrilling plot and some real empowerment from a passionate filmmaker, Hustlers could just be the definitive female-led crime film for our times. It will take a lot to beat this one.

Sam Love

Hustlers at CeX

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