Julia Stiles

Hustlers

15/09/19

Jennifer Lopez dominates the screen in Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria’s impressive depiction of a real-life stripper-gang, drugging and mugging their so-called ‘victims’. As Ramona, Lopez is mesmerising: a strong, ambitious and generous woman, determined not to fall prey to a system whose odds are stacked against her.

Constance Wu is Dorothy/Destiny, the wide-eyed new girl at Scores. She’s worked in a strip club before, but not in New York City, where competition is fierce (I mean, Cardi B works there; this is not for the faint-hearted). Destiny just wants to make enough money to live an independent life, and to help her gran get out of debt. Teaming up with Ramona seems like a good idea – and it is. Because Ramona is the best: she knows exactly what the customers want, and she’s a kind and supportive friend.

The film plays out as a series of flashbacks, linked by an interview with journalist Elizabeth (played by Julia Stiles and based on Jessica Pressler, whose article about the ‘hustle’ inspired this movie). It might have been interesting to learn more about Elizabeth, but still, it’s thanks to her persistent questioning that Destiny reveals the truth behind the women’s actions. It’s a fascinating watch, supported by a stellar soundtrack.

For once, here is a movie that doesn’t try to have its cake and eat it, to bemoan the exploitation of women while simultaneously objectifying them. Sure, there are lots of semi-naked bodies here, and several explicit pole routines. But we’re never positioned as the strip-club audience, never invited to join the fantasy. We see things as the women see them: as impressive moves, or as ways to earn a crust. It’s a fine line, and it’s well-navigated here.

We’re on the women’s side; of course we are. They just want to earn a living. We see them try ‘proper’ jobs, earning minimum wage, unable to pick their children up from school. As Ramona says, everyone’s hustling. Some people are throwing the money around, and the others are dancing. At least at the strip club the money is good.

But, after the 2008 financial crash, the pickings are slim. The Wall Street players have drifted away from the club; the women are getting older; they can’t be dancers forever (although, seeing fifty-year-old Lopez in action, you’d be forgiven for wondering why the hell not). So Ramona concocts a plan: target a guy, drug him, then take cash from his credit card at the club. When he comes round, he won’t remember everything, and he certainly won’t want to complain to the police, or risk his family finding out where he has been.

Ramona and Destiny recruit two trusted colleagues, Mercedes (Kiki Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), and everything goes well – until they get too greedy, until flaky Dawn (Madeline Brewer) joins the team. By now, tensions are running high, and Destiny’s friendship with Ramona faces its biggest threat.

This is, actually, a wonderful film, as full of heart as it is of rage: an affecting human tale, of women refusing to be cast as victims.

4.7 stars

Susan Singfield

Jason Bourne

Unknown

30/07/16

The Bourne franchise has been through some interesting twists and turns since its inception in 2002. Created by director, Doug Limon, the first instalment was successful enough to engender two assured sequels, both directed by Paul Greengrass, at which point its influence could be seen in several other films, most notably in Casino Royale, where the Bond series could almost have been accused of plagiarising Greengrass’s frantic, shakey-cam style. When Matt Damon and Greengrass both announced they’d had enough, The Bourne Legacy attempted to fill the gap with Jeremy Renner stepping into the lead role, but it failed to do the kind of numbers that the previous films had achieved and many people thought that it had run its course.

Now, despite all their protestations, Damon and Greengrass are back at the helm and the big question on everyone’s lips is ‘can they pull it off a third time?’

The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ There may not be much depth to these films but they do grip like a steel vice as they race relentlessly from one chase to another, while all the supporting characters gleefully double cross each other at every opportunity. This is kinetic cinema at its most compelling. It puts you right in the driver’s seat and it’s an enthralling, exciting ride.

When we first meet Jason in this adventure, he’s been reduced to illegal boxing to make ends meet, something he does with his customary mixture of skill and melancholy – but when Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) comes back into his life, it soon becomes evident that Bourne is not yet finished with Treadstone and it is not finished with him. Reptillian CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) is still pulling the strings and now he has ambitious new recruit Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) to help him engineer the capture of his most elusive enemy. He also has The Asset (Vincent Cassel) hiding behind every corner with a high-powered rifle, ready to blow Bourne’s brains across the screen should he try to evade the elaborate traps that have been set for him by the powers-that-be. And just to add a touch of contemporary relevance, there’s a Mark Zuckerberg-like entrepreneur (Riz Ahmed) who’s multi-billion dollar social network empire has, it appears, been built on rather dodgy foundations.

Stir it all together with a selection of pulverising car chases, brutal punch ups and vicious shoot-outs and we have another pulse pounding instalment of one of the most successful franchises in film history. If you liked the other films, you’ll enjoy this one. You might argue that Jason Bourne offers nothing new to the established formula but when it’s put together as brilliantly as this, you’ll get no complaints from me.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney