Visually Stunning but Light on Character: A Review of “Hustlers”

Stephanie Bock

“Hustlers” is a gorgeously crafted film that attempts to justify the crimes that it showcases.

Yes, the cinematography is stunning. No one can deny the neon lights of a strip club in New York City do not look sexy and beautiful.  Every actress looks incredible in the pink, blue, and purple tones and dim lights and smoky atmosphere. When watching the scenes in the strip club I actually couldn’t help but be reminded of the nightclub in BladeRunner 2049, which of course is a compliment. The lighting and atmosphere was perfect to give an air of mystery, allure, and temptation.


However, as pretty as the film and the actresses are in this film, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. Constance Wu, who played the character we follow, Destiny, follows matriarch Romana on this ridiculous plan to drug and rob their strib club customers when they are struggling to make ends meet after the 2008 financial crash.  Her justification? Wall street men are also bad. So, why not steal from them? Oh, and she also claims that she had a very rough childhood which prefaced this behavior, which we do not get a look into at all. We see Destiny talking to an interviewer saying that she has no idea what she has been through and that she is privileged, and finishing her point with, “what would you do for $1000?”  This would make sense if Destiny had sort of backstory beyond a vague mention of her mom leaving her when she was young, which was a one-time throwaway line. As a result, I can’t say that I can care for Destiny as a character or root for her actions, despite her hardships. She has no distinguishing traits, besides the fact that she loves money and she will do anything to get it.


Yes, she is a mother. And I believe a bad one at that considering her daughter is only in a few scenes.  Where is her daughter while she is drugging these men? She never mentions her once when this syndicate begins.  And yet, this whole plan was supposed to be about her.


Moving on to Romona, aka Jennifer Lopez, who did have a great performance in this film.  She was the one stand out character as the ruthless leader of the group, and you probably have already heard about her 5 minute long strip dance routine that introduces her.  That routine sets the tone of what kind of character she would be for the whole rest of the film; she was confident, sexy, harsh, but also loving. She cared for her small group of friends, but was  cutthroat in her methods to help them. This ideology of Romona gave me a complex relationship with her, as I appreciated how much she loved her small family, but to the lengths that she took her operation made me feel uncomfortable.  We see Romona and all her friends and a very expensive NYC loft, opening fur coats, giant Barbie mansions, and jewelry on Christmas day, all acquired from their crimes. Overall, Ramona was the most memorable and badass character in this film and you can see that she had good intentions somewhere, however, I cannot agree with the lengths with her character has taken this operation


Lastly, this film suffers from underdeveloped characters. We have a group of girls that do not get enough screen time or character developing moments.   Lili Reinhart, who is a very talented actress, is greatly underutilized in this film, as well as Keke Palmer. They both just feel like…sidekicks? They just do what Romana tells them to do and then drama happens around them.  An example of this is when Keke accidentally overdoses a man at her house, and Destiny comes by to take him to the hospital. Destiny took charge, as Keke was freaking out, losing her mind. Therefore she stood out more. Unfortunately, I cannot name a distinguishing trait for either character, considering they are so talented.


Overall, Hustlers is a film that attempts to be female version of “Godfather” or “Goodfellas” without fully committing to the crime aspect, as Destiny keeps trying to justify her crimes to an interviewer, who is meant to be the audience. A major crack in the film is the character development, as they throw a group of girls into the film with no distinct personalities and we get hints at Destiny’s past that never get expanded upon. Though, it is beautiful visually and entertaining at face value.