The older I get, the weirder it is to see the recent past get the period-piece treatment. Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers (2019) pulls such a trick, revisiting the 2008 economic crash and its immediate aftermath from the perspective of a former stripper named “Destiny” (Constance Wu). In an interview with an investigative reporter (Julia Stiles), Destiny recounts how her neophyte dancing career grew more lucrative under the tutelage of the cagey, more experienced Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). But when the financial crisis strikes, Destiny’s career takes a nosedive — until years later when, reunited with Ramona, she embarks on a risky new money-making path.
Based on actual events, Hustlers suffers somewhat from the structural limitations of the biopic, but by and large it does an exceptional job making its story appropriately movie-shaped, something of a feminist Goodfellas, a tale of criminals who take things too far. But unlike Goodfellas, which is a little nihilistic thematically, Hustlers has interesting things to say, examining the socioeconomic injustices baked into ruthless American capitalism. As that system fails to punish an entire class of culprits for the world’s economic implosion, it’s impossible not to sympathize with the victims caused by that senseless greed, forced to forge a new desperate path in the aftermath. Led by Wu in a piercing performance, the hustlers — Lopez, Wu, Keke Palmer, and Lili Reinhardt — are accessible antiheroes whose slippery-slope descent into a life of crime slickly illustrates the hypocritical inequality of American justice.