Back in 2013, I had one of the most unexpected moments of my life. I saw a Michael Bay movie entitled Pain & Gain. After I left that theater, I knew almost instantly that I had just witnessed the best movie of the decade. I have been fighting that war for several years. Now, in 2019, I had a very similar experience when I walked out of Hustlers. The extra eerie component of this puzzle is just how similar the two films are. Both are masterpieces that tell real-life stories about the corruption of the American Dream from people who have less but desire more by any means necessary. Once the end credits hit, I knew I had just witnessed something special.
I’ve only seen one other film made by Lorene Scafaria, and Seeking a Friend for the End of The World was a delightful surprise. However, the leap from that film to Hustlers is like Neil Armstrong stepping on Earth for the first time compared to his first steps on the moon. Scafaria’s direction here is impeccable. She allows her actors to command the screen and there are various style choices that keep the audience engaged with the material. There is no wasted moment in the movie; it will always keep the brain working and stimulated, and Scafaria rewards the audience with her style constantly. If she is not on the short list for Best Director nominees come Oscar season, then I do not see the point of holding the Oscars this year. Before this, one may not have heard her name. After this, one would be wise to keep an eye on that name. This was a game-changing moment in her career.
I am a simple creature. You give me a crime movie about real people in real situations, and nine times out of ten, I will love it. If you put a bunch of neon into the same movie with all those aspects and throw a nice rise and fall tale into the bunch, odds are you’ll get the perfect score ten times out of ten. I could literally copy and paste the plot from Pain & Gain and substitute bodybuilders for strippers, and it would be nearly identical to this. These women are struggling with life and they are tired of struggling when bad people are thriving. They decide to do something incredibly illegal to get them their money and stick it to those Wall Street fat cats at the same time. However, once someone gets a little taste of green, they want more and more, and some people who don’t deserve the pain get the pain. It’s a classic crime story told in new-age style.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
This is where it gets tricky. I know I should start with Constance Wu’s lead performance, because it’s near perfect. One of the best of the year. Nuanced and simplistic, but insanely engaging. However, as good as Constance Wu was in this, Jennifer Lopez decided to come in and give one of the greatest career re-defining performances of all-time. To say Jennifer Lopez deserves an Oscar for this movie would not be giving the performance justice. Not only does she disappear into the role, she makes any scene she is in. It never feels showy. It never feels like Oscar bait. It always feels real; it always feels natural. It’s layered and dripping with charisma. I’ve always liked Lopez as an actor. I actually think she kinda got a bad rap because of some of the movies she chose to be in. However, much like Dwayne Johnson in Pain & Gain, she stretches acting muscles I did not know she had in her. If her performance was not good or if her and Wu’s chemistry was even a smidgeon off, the film would fall apart. I am glad to report that all cylinders are firing here. I believed why Wu’s character and the other women would follow Lopez’s character into doing all those morally questionable deeds. The rest of the cast is also very good. Even actors known mostly for being singers pull in quality performances. Is it a bit distracting to see Cardi B in the movie? Yeah, but only for a moment, because she felt natural. The camaraderie between the women is so believable that one would just want to spend more time with them talking about everyday life. One feels their struggles as well. There are some really dark and depressing scenes that just hit the soul. They’re brutal, and the actors help enhance the emotions to the utmost degree.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
If anything in this movie deserves award recognition more than Lopez, it’s the sound design. There is a moment in the movie that used sound and silence to perfection. It left my jaw on the floor for the usher to come and clean up after the film concluded. The music is a phenomenal blend of backend 2000s pop and classical music. Whoever coordinated the music in this really should get all the work in the world. There was even a moment in the movie where the use of a Flo Rida song hit me square in the feels because of its placement within the story. Also, I do not think there has been a better needle drop moment than when Usher’s 'Love in This Club' played. Except when Lorde’s 'Royals' played later in the film.
I think I have come to a point in my life where I have realized that a good tracking shot is my drug of choice, and boy oh boy does this movie have good tracking shots. I was in tracking shot heaven. The first half of the movie is spent in the strip club, and the colors are my aesthetic to a tee. I am a sucker for some neon. I always thought Scafaria’s use of lighting was done expertly. The scenes in the private room felt so dark and closed off; even almost claustrophobic.
Hustlers is an experience and a half. It has almost all the calling cards that I dial regularly, and it’s a movie that strives to tell a very human story in the most fun and creative way possible. This easily could’ve felt hokey or standard or like a TV movie. However, it was a perfect storm of style, direction, performance, and music. All the foundations that makes a movie a movie are excelled at here. The absolute craziest part is that it all feels so effortless even though I know that to make all these components as good as they are, the people working on them were busting their asses. However, it came off as easy as breathing. Now that is the true mark of a good hustler.