Hustlers film review: Watch the five star film that should win J.Lo her first Oscar

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Jennifer Lopez has never been better than in this electrifying film about a group of strip club employees. Believe the hype.

 Jennifer Lopez pole-dancing to Criminal by Fiona Apple while wearing a tassled silver bodysuit as dollar bills monsoon down on her is, unexpectedly, one of the most mesmerizing and exhilarating minutes of film I’ve seen this year. The scene comes early on in Hustlers  the much anticipated film loosely based on a 2015 New York Times article about a group of strip club employees who drugged rich Wall Street businessmen and scammed them out of thousands of dollars. 

Directed by Lorene Scarafia, this is a slick and snappy film that crackles with energy about power dynamics, friendship and female empowerment. It shows the dancers as three-dimensional humans even though the world around them doesn’t treat them with such dignity.  

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The film is told through the eyes of Destiny [Constance Wu]. We see her interviewed by a journalist [ Julia Stiles] and the story switches between the present day, and her early days in the bustling Moves club where she is doe-eyed, wobbling on heels and having to smile through customers joking “Hey, Lucy Liu” to her. Until she’s taken under the wing – and literally enveloped into her fur coat – of Ramona [Jennifer Lopez] who teaches her everything she knows.

When the financial crash hits and the club is left empty, Ramona enlists Destiny into a fishing scheme, where they secretly drug men with ketamine and cocaine – there’s a shrewd domestic scene where Destiny and Ramona cook up their toxic concoctions – then get them to hand over their credit cards, and max them out. The theory is: the men won’t complain, because they’re too embarrassed to report the crime. Or wouldn’t even notice the hit to their bank account.

The tables are turned. The men doing the exploiting become the ones that are exploited “The game is rigged, and it doesn’t reward people who play by the rules,” says Ramona. But as the hustle ultimately unravels so too does Ramona and Destiny’s friendship, the love story at the centre of this film. 

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Constance Wu is great as a sweet yet steely protagonist while the supporting cast is an exciting roll call of New Hollywood including Riverdale’s Lili Reinhart, Keke Palme, Madeline Brewer, Lizzo and Cardi B who’s wild as a fiery dancer. But it’s Lopez as Ramona who, is the beating heart of Hustlers  she is smart, tender, manipulative, powerful; just try taking your eyes off her. It’s Lopez’s moment to show everyone that’s ever doubted her just what she’s capable of. Underestimate her at your peril. 

It’s to Scafaria’s credit that she never moralizes or simplifies what these women did, rather she paints a portrait of the dirty and corrupted world Ramona and her gang of merry (wo)men move through, what they do to survive it and the freedom that money gives them. You’ll never stop rooting for them. 

Hustlers is in cinemas nationwide on Friday September 13

Images: STX

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