Inspiringly based on a true story, “Hustlers” gives us a sobering glimpse into the hideously entitled world of the so-called masters of the universe whose unbridled greed crippled the global economy a decade ago and whose actions still reverberate to this day. Writer/ Director Lorene Scafaria adapts New York Magazine’s article ‘The Hustlers at Scores’ into a rousing tale of self-empowerment and redistributive redemption as previously objectified and overlooked women find strength in friendship and weakness in their exploiters.
Headed by Ramona (played with a to date only hinted at power and magnetism by Jennifer Lopez), the gang adjust to the new economic reality and the sleaziness cost-cutting of their strip club bosses by devising a freelancing scheme to target those with far more money than sense or morality. Lopez is ably supported by Constance Wu who charts a convincing through-line from wide-eyed innocent to hard-edged woman of the world as she struggles to support her grandmother and, later, her son.
Where “Hustlers” triumphs is in its putting the bond of friendship and sisterhood at the forefront of things. For a movie about strippers and the manipulative power of sex, it never once strays into exploitative territory nor unnecessarily or gratuitously sexualizes its characters. The arrogant and obtuse clients are likewise not demonised or excused, just shown for what they are. The film is content to present the audience with the events and players and let you draw your own conclusion to where the moral line lies. There’s an authenticity and credibility to the storytelling because it’s written and filmed from a female perspective. There are no lingering, leering camera shots and the strip clubs never feel like anything other than a workplace, and the work the women do is treated with dignity and respect.
There’s no titillation on offer hear and, outside of the leering letches that are karmically fleeced, men don’t really figure in the happenings of “Hustlers”. It’s not that it’s anti-men, it’s just not their story and it rightly doesn’t feel the need to somehow accommodate a ‘not all men’ character to reassure any insecure audience bros. Big on drama, warmth, humour and filled with great performances, “Hustlers” is what “Ocean’s 8” wants to be when it grows up.