22 October 2019 | 11:23 am | Debbie Zhou

"Scafaria confidently conjures up a high-end crime flick that’s a joy to watch."

Hustlers opens on a cramped dressing room in a strip club in 2007, dancers putting on their make-up. The camera’s focus is on Destiny (a sharply righteous Constance Wu), the “new girl” at the bottom of the barrel, who could easily fade into the background of this tight space. Instead, she’s steadily brought centrestage in this delicious caper thriller, which takes twisted, cunning revenge on the wealthy Wall Street men who enter NYC’s clubs.

It takes Ramona’s arrival, though, to teach Destiny to peek out from behind her neatly cut fringe - where a swaggering, magnetic Jennifer Lopez brings a surprising level of warmth to her performance as the “den mother”. Her striptease entrance set against Fiona Apple’s Criminal is magnificently slick and athletic as she commands the stage with her pole-swinging act, dollar bills showering around her. Destiny can’t look away, and neither can we. In that moment, the world becomes Ramona’s only.

Based on Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York magazine article, writer-director Lorene Scafaria confidently conjures up a high-end crime flick that’s a joy to watch. It runs on the high of its addictive energy as the band of dancers work together to drug and steal from unsuspecting bankers post-global financial crisis. But when the glamour of these acts slowly wears off – and the duo must face bleak consequences of their crimes – Hustlers struggles to replicate the same dynamism that sparkles when the fierceness and depth of the women’s friendship is on full display. While its flashback structure blunts the impact of its otherwise punchy storytelling, this is a film that’s less about the con – and rather, unexpectedly and most poignantly, about the close female camaraderie that comes from their best attempts at hustling their way through life.