MOVIE REVIEW: Hustlers flashy before hitting grittier groove
A ripping true-crime drama of the highest order, Hustlers is dominated by women from start to finish.
The females get the best of every scene as written. The males are just there for punctuation.
This adaptation of a New York Magazine longform article that went viral globally in 2015, Hustlers tells the story of a ring of mickey-slipping strippers who systematically drugged the clientele of an elite men's club.
Known as Scores, this popular NYC establishment was mostly frequented by haplessly horny Wall Street types. The economic model powering the business was simple. Dancers threw themselves at the patrons. The patrons threw cash at the dancers.
It was good money for those women who knew what they were doing. But it was not the kind of the money that was going to last forever. Particularly with the year in question being 2008, and a worldwide financial meltdown is about to reach boiling point.
The principal focus of Hustlers is on a select group of Scores dancers who figured out a way to go from being exploited (with their consent) to exploiters (of those for whom consent would not be an option).
Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) is the brains, the beauty and the body of the operation, which sees its victims swiftly parting company with their consciousness and their credit cards.
The women under her control roam in packs, isolate their prey, put a little something in a drink, and then run the numbers up accordingly.
Destiny (Constance Wu) is a conflicted second-in-command who can't say no to the easy money, but can't always endorse the treacherous tactics employed to make it.
The action that unfolds in Hustlers is largely seen from Destiny's perspective, where her admiration of Ramona's drive and confidence - departments in which she herself is deficient - initially blinds her to her mentor's motives until it's too late.
While the movie starts out very fleshy and very flashy - Ramona's entrance as the number-one pole dancer on the Scores marquee is dazzling stuff - it soon settles into a grittier groove that helps us understand what pushed these women to take such drastic (and dangerous) measures to get ahead.
Lopez (a career-best for her) and Wu (now officially a rising star after this and Crazy Rich Asians) are a dynamic double act throughout Hustlers, exploring a complicated relationship where the nurturing warmth of true friendship is slowly iced by a rising pile of cold hard cash.
Director: Lorene Scafaria (The Meddler)
Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Cardi B.
Some will take it off and others will sleep it off