The enormous impact of Martin Scorsese's film career has left a deep mark on the US film scene. While a film with obvious Scorsese influence, Joker, continues to stir up discussion, this week we have the arrival of a film that carries Scorsese DNA and actually — refreshingly — does something interesting with it: Hustlers (dir. Lorene Scafaria, R16).
Based on a true story, the film follows a group of strippers as they embark on an embezzlement scheme when the 2008 recession wreaks havoc on their lives — taking aim at the lecherous Wall St banker clientele that oversaw it.
Seen through the eyes of Constance Wu's newbie Dorothy and led by Jennifer Lopez's mastermind Ramona, the film tracks a classic American rise-and-fall story, through the heady days of financial success and into the inevitable moment where it all turns to crap.
The immediate touchstone here is Goodfellas and Hustlers bears more than a passing resemblance to that film in both story and direction, from the jukebox soundtrack to director Scafaria's camerawork and editing.
What makes Hustlers special is its ability to take the structure and mood of that earlier film and turn it into something thrillingly new — a film that makes up for its lack of narrative surprise with colour, energy and layered characterisation. The entire ensemble turns in warm, empathetic performances but when it comes to Lopez, believe the hype. Her work here is revelatory, fierce and uncompromising — a performance destined to become iconic.
Hustlers never loses its sense of fun, yet generates surprisingly moving sequences from the relationship between the women at the film's centre. Beneath the sequins and the confetti is a stirring sense of infuriation at the plight of these women. Hustlers is a hoot with just enough of a sour kick to cement it as one of the best of the year.
Rating: 4.5 stars.
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It's always dispiriting when talented film-makers attach themselves to a gimmick at the expense of great story telling.
It's happened to Robert Zemeckis, James Cameron and now, it seems, Ang Lee, who has pivoted to filming in the high-frame-rate process pioneered in Peter Jackson's woebegone The Hobbit trilogy, making the images appear almost hyper-real.
Lee's latest, Gemini Man (rated M), starring Will Smith, employs this gimmick, though the version I saw had been transferred back to the classic 24 frames. I'd be interested to see how it plays differently in that context, when Gemini Man is, in most other respects, a well-mounted but messily-executed by-the-numbers sci-fi thriller.
The story centres on a government assassin (Smith, in a downbeat, subdued performance) who finds himself hunted by a much younger clone of himself. The film also employs the much-talked about de-ageing technology used to middling effect in, among other films, Rogue One.
A film of many technological innovations but very few narrative ones, the story is almost old-fashioned — a meat-and-potatoes actioner that, aside from some flirtations with an interesting theme in the expectations fathers set upon sons (covered more successfully by the superior Ad Astra), feels right out of the mid-90s.
Lee is no hack director and occasionally elevates the material — but gimmicks aside, there's nothing much to see here.
Rating: 2.5 stars.