Hustlers is the most entertaining movie of the year. I'm already primed to love any con artist movie, but Lorene Scafaria's energetic adaptation of Jessica Pressler's article goes above and beyond for a slick, satisfying and even sentimental film.
Constance Wu once again proves her star power as Destiny, a new dancer at Moves in New York City, where she's taken under the wings of Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), a club veteran who still draws the biggest tips and the most repeat customers. Ramona's introduction – set to Fiona Apple's "Criminal" – is one of the most jaw-dropping, transfixing moments I've seen all year. They're enjoying expensive apartments and shopping sprees until the Great Recession happens. Business grows dire at the club. Destiny quits when she becomes pregnant, and eventually she's at the end of her rope. When she returns to stripping, she finds the club has few regulars anymore, and the guys that do show up are even sleazier than past bros. Refusing to go beyond dancing, she reunites with Ramona, who fills her in on the illegal scheme she has planned with Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart).
Instead of merely using their sexuality to lure bigger tips out of their clients, they go straight for the big prize: drugging the guys and maxing out their credit cards. Like any great con, when it works, life is great. The montages of them swindling coked-up Wall Street douchebags are electric. But as with any criminal enterprise, insatiable appetites and unstable players will eventually bring it down. The ensuing criminal investigation tears apart some really wonderful female friendships, leading to some especially strong acting from Wu.
Hustlers is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, who was already one of my favorite filmmakers after Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and The Meddler. But she's taken a leap as a director, joining the big leagues. This is a movie that really understands its characters and their motivations. It's also got style to spare and exceptional use of a deep bench of supporting roles that are all played perfectly. This is one of the best kinds of movies: a well-crafted crowd-pleaser.