It is a positive thing to see a Hollywood film with an Asian lead, especially when it doesn’t have “Asian” in the title, and somehow even more so when it is in a role of sex appeal. It is also extremely positive that a film can be made to take place predominately in a strip club, but somehow manage to avoid objectification of its stripper characters. It is also extremely relevant to tell this story of hustling during a time when much of the population feels disenfranchised, and likely to enjoy the vicarious thrills of the narrative. And somehow even with all of those positives, Hustlers still felt like a movie about a group of women who decided that they were entitled to money from men simply for their unfortunate possession of a penis.
Regardless of well the film may be made, its morality and one-dimensional portrayal of literally every male character is obnoxious and socially irresponsible. There is even a scene with Cardi B (who should refrain from acting any further) yelling at a male bouncer for no reason, and he is forced to just stand there and take the abuse. The women rule this world, though it often feels more like fantasy than reality in the way that it is presented, which is unfortunate given it is inspired by a true story.
When the economy crashed in 2008 a group of strippers in Manhattan began to drug men, dragging them into the strip club where their bank accounts are drained. Destiny (Constance Wu) had initially gotten into stripping for easy money, but the film attempts to make a weak sentimental argument near the end of the film that the real reason she committed numerous crimes was for friendship. A group of struggling strippers create a bond in their struggles, including the difficulty of drugging and robbing innocent men.
Heading up this traveling sisterhood of poles is Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), a stripper that has handfuls of cash thrown at her despite being middle-aged and never actually taking any clothes off. This ridiculous fantasy element of the film (tellingly focusing on the appeal of money rather than sex) makes it apparent that the narrative is directed at female audience members. It asks them to imagine what it would be like to take whatever you want, and simultaneously punish men, who are all to blame for everything. Given that we are never given anything but surface information about any of the boyfriends, husbands, and victims, there is not a single male character of worth or complexity. And that might be fine if the female characters weren’t so damn unlikeable. Every flaw and mistake is justified and blamed on society’s treatment of women, with greed and vanity accepted without excuse. The fact that this has been called a modern-day Robin Hood tale speaks volumes about where we are in society, and where it is easiest to place the blame, even without just cause. Plainly put, this film is biased and would be called sexist if the gender roles were reversed.
If this film had been a satire, it would have been a complete success. Instead, it inexplicably expects the audience to sympathize with the thieves, simply because they have been victimized in their past. Unfortunately, I did not see having a bad mother as just cause for stealing from men and ruining their lives. Everyone has pain in their past, but director Lorene Scafaria seems to believe that Ramona and Destiny’s pain is reason enough for them to be excused for what they do to others. And beyond that, I’m not likely to give a shit about the friendship of two greedy criminals who were bitter that the economy had affected their bottom line in the same way it had most of the country. At the very least, the filmmaker could have attempted to make them sympathetic, rather than assuming the collective decision to male-bash was reason enough for this film to be successful. This film has an agenda which is plain to see beneath the flashy outfits and thumping soundtrack, and which would not have been praised half as much with a male director.
The 4K Ultra HD release of Hustlers is not necessary unless you really want to see the details in Jennifer Lopez’s ridiculous outfits (how much of the budget went to that, I wonder). The sound may be the best part of the upgrade, with the hip-hop heavy soundtrack coming through sharp. The film is well shot, but the neon-heavy cinematography isn’t the most flattering, nor does it need the level of depth and clarity the 4K presentation offers. The release comes with a Blu-ray copy and a code for a digital copy as well. The only bonus feature is a commentary track with Scafaria
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 5/10