Dorothy (Constance Wu) is the newest exotic dancer at New York strip club Moves. She is new to this world, working under the name “Destiny”, struggling to make ends meet. She is working hard in order to take care of her grandmother, but it seems like she hardly takes home any money. When she sees veteran stripper Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) take the stage, her eyes are widened. She is in awe at how Ramona commands the stage, has the guys eating out of the palm of her hand, and how it rains dollar bills when she hits the pole. Destiny asks Ramona for some advice, and she is happy to help. Ramona takes her under her wing and makes her part of the family, teaching her not just how to work the pole, but also how to get more money out of the Wall Street clientele. “You want ‘em drunk enough to get their credit card, but sober enough to sign the check”. The women are soon raking in the money, and everything is looking up…that is until the financial crisis of September 2008, when everything suddenly came crashing down.
While the women try to take on regular jobs to pay the bills, they ultimately find their way back to the club, but the clients are scarce. Ramona comes up with a plan to lure whales back to the club, which she calls going fishing. She wants to steal from the rich Wall Street guys who got off easy from the financial crisis. She formulates a cocktail of ketamine and MDMA that the women will use to roofie their marks, and then max out the men’s credit cards while they sleep it off. By only going after married men, Ramona figures the guys will be too embarrassed or have too much to lose, and have no other recourse but to just accept what happened to them. While things start off quite well, as the business expands, things start to get out of control. Some of the women get greedy and sloppy, and don’t follow their own guidelines, leading to some risky behavior. This new business venture ultimately causes a rift between Destiny and Ramona, and sets them on a destructive course.
The film uses a framing device where, in 2014, Destiny is recounting her adventures of the past 7 years to journalist Elizabeth (Julia Stiles). However, this mechanism felt both unnecessary and also inconsistent. It is also never explained why Destiny is willing to tell all to this journalist. At various points during the main story we hear Destiny narrating the events on screen, or the film will cut away to footage of Destiny talking with Elizabeth in her office. However, in the final act of the film, the filmmakers do a couple of jarring things that didn’t really fit with the rest of this framework. First, there is a moment when Destiny mentions the name of a mark to Elizabeth and the last name is bleeped out—this is the only time any audio is bleeped in the film, and it feels odd and out of place. Later on, Destiny turns off Elizabeth’s recording device, and the rest of that scene plays out in complete silence, but we still see mouths moving. This implies that we should hear what Destiny experienced and tells Elizabeth, but early on we see several scenes with Ramona where Destiny was not present and couldn’t have described what was happening to Elizabeth. In general, the interview framing device felt unnecessary and just didn’t quite work. That said, there was one fun moment where Elizabeth takes a pause before sipping the tea that Destiny hands her, as the discussion turns to how the women drugged their marks.
While the film does has its humorous moments, I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as a comedy. It is more of a gritty look at the life of these strippers, the crap that they have to deal with at work, and the struggles in their personal lives. The filmmakers have done a good job of making 2007 Dorthy look more naive and younger than her more-confident, self-assured and ruthless 2014 counterpart, and we get a real sense that this woman has changed over the 7 years of the film. We also get an idea of the women’s home lives and their motivation for the money—though once they get a taste of the rich life, they become more concerned with designer shoes, furs and handbags than with putting food on the table. I’m still not sure if we are supposed to be on their side when it comes to their dastardly deeds. The film makes sure we see how gross and rude the Wall Street guys are towards the strippers, and so it seems like we are supposed to sympathize with their plight, but they are drugging these men and stealing their money!
I first saw this film in the theater and was a bit underwhelmed. I couldn’t understand the overwhelming critical love and declarations of it being Oscar-worthy. I certainly wouldn’t call it a bad film—the performances are quite good—but I also didn’t find it to be particularly outstanding or remarkable. While it provides an interesting story, the film goes on a bit too long, and could have easily been trimmed down by eliminating the aforementioned framing device. I did enjoy the film more this second time around when watching it at home. I’ve seen a lot of the critical praise for this movie go towards Jennifer Lopez, but the true star of the film is actually Constance Wu, who does an excellent job of portraying the vulnerable Dorothy early on, as well as the more cutthroat Destiny she ultimately becomes. And J Lo does prove that she’s still got it.
Universal’s Blu-ray release looks and quite good. The picture is clean, and detailed. Brighter scenes look fantastic, especially on the 4K release, however, many of the scenes inside the club are on the darker side, with faces often a little drowned out in red or purple hues. The film’s audio track provides clear dialogue, and does a nice job of surrounding the viewer in the music and atmosphere of the club.
The 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray discs come packed in standard UHD keepcase with a slipcover. Included is an insert with a code to redeem for a 4K iTunes digital copy of the film (it is not Movies Anywhere compatible). Both discs contain the same assortment of bonus material, which unfortunately only consists of two trailers and an audio commentary by the director.
4K Ultra HD:
- 2160p / Widescreen 2.39:1
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
- 1080p / Widescreen 2.39:1
- Audio: English Dolby Atmos, English DVS (Descriptive Video Service), Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
- 4K digital copy redeemable via iTunes (Not Movies Anywhere compatible)
Digital (for redemption deadline, see NBCUcodes.com):
- Trailer 1 (2:12)
- Trailer 2 (:57)
- Feature Commentary with Director Lorene Scafaria (1:50:06)
The director provides an interesting and informative commentary throughout the film, talking about the music, locations, actors, and characters. She also discusses the motivations behind certain scenes, and shares fun behind-the-scenes stories about the production. As the film goes along, there are some larger gaps of silence, and unfortunately, the director never really addresses or mentions the odd framing device choices that I had issues with.
Hustlers, which is inspired by a true story, is a darkly comedic look at the struggles and misadventures of a group of strippers who turn to illegal methods to make ends meet when there’s a downturn in the economy. While I don’t agree with all the Oscar-worthy claims, I do think the performances are strong, especially from Constance Wu. However, I found the film’s framing device to be a bit awkward and unnecessary, and the film to be a little too long. The release provides satisfying picture and sound and includes an iTunes-only 4K digital copy, but the only bonus material is an audio commentary by the director. Fans of the film should enjoy this inside look into the making of the film, but for others, a rental may be preferred.