Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles
Director: Lorene Scafaria
Running Time: 110 mins
Hustlers is an American film about the true story of a team of former strip club dancers who join together to turn the tables on their former clients: Wall Street executives, bankers and more, all in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Telling an interesting true story with a relevant core message, Hustlers is a film that’s ultimately worth your time, but it takes an awfully long time to earn that status. Despite a strong finish with good drama and reflection, Hustlers struggles to find its voice over the course of a rather frustrating first two acts, wrestling with a conflicted moral conscience, and getting a little too wrapped up in a fairly repetitive and gratuitous crime plot.
What I found most interesting about Hustlers, though, is just how many parallels it has with Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street. Now, while Scorsese’s film tells of the extreme excess, manipulation and illegal workings at the top of the financial ladder, Hustlers looks at a group of people who were affected by those very people, but came to become almost the same in their attempts to take revenge.
With both films telling true stories, they follow an almost identical three-act structure that follows the rise and fall of a band of unlikely anti-heroes. However, where The Wolf Of Wall Street goes the whole hog into the pure insanity of excess, and unnervingly getting you on the side of the bad guys, Hustlers is never quite as bold, instead trying to give better justification to the main characters.
And that’s where my first issue with Hustlers lies, as it struggles to really find the moral middleground it’s desperately trying to preach through the first two-thirds of the movie.
On the one hand, the film rightly supports the women who aim to give their former clients a taste of their own medicine, having been treated appallingly in the past by Wall Street big wigs and then left to struggle once they ran out of money. On the other hand, though, the film tries to acknowledge the point where the women, despite their initial intentions, cross the line, and eventually become the very people that they were at first trying to take revenge on.
That moral ambiguity is certainly an interesting topic for discussion, but through the first two acts of Hustlers, it’s a frustratingly one-sided argument entirely in favour of the women getting one back over on their former clients. The film rightly looks at and criticises the fact that Wall Street executives whose opulent lifestyles and dirty dealings played a major part in the 2008 financial crisis, and the loss of millions of jobs around the world, but what Hustlers doesn’t do enough is turn around and look at itself when things start to go too far.
As a result, despite the film’s enthusiasm for the women’s increasingly shady operations, it never had me fully on side, simply because it doesn’t have enough self-awareness until too late. If we compare it with The Wolf Of Wall Street again, Scorsese’s film does manage to get you on side with its titular white-collar criminal, but it’s done in a darkly ironic vein that ultimately sees you as the viewer succumbing to the irresistible yet dangerous charisma of Jordan Belfort, a brilliantly clever commentary on the real-life events.
Hustlers, on the other hand, is too one-sided in its moral compass for far too long, and although it finishes really strongly with solid reflection on the point where an honest desire to balance the tables went too far, it’s a reflection that comes along just too late on.
Now, as frustrating as that moral bias is at times, there are still a lot of things to enjoy about Hustlers. The lead performances from Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu are great, and supporting players Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart really stand out in side roles that would often go completely unnoticed.
Also, while their operations aren’t necessarily the most complex or elegant, there are brief moments where you do feel that dark sense of pleasure in seeing the women getting their own back on the Wall Street big wigs, even if it is carried out in an ultimately immoral and illegal way.
So, as far as a good crime-drama goes, Hustlers has the surface nailed down fairly well, with moments of good humour and intrigue too, even if it does occasionally prove a little repetitive in its middle act, and rather gratuitous in its opening act. However, its core message is frustratingly muddled and poorly developed, with too much enthusiasm for justifying criminality early on leading to an unconvincing moral compass throughout, something that is ultimately rectified, but just too late, and that’s why I’m giving the film a 7.2 overall.