Scafaria frames her narrative with an interview between Destiny and a journalist played by Julia Stiles. The trope at first feels like an uneasy addition, taking the action momentarily away from the nightlife scenes where the movie thrives, but it eventually blossoms into necessary tension, allowing another perspective to illuminate the drama.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Hustlers feels like such a breath of fresh air is that it's so easy to picture how wrong it could go. There's the version that passes judgement on its characters for their choice of profession; there's the other that's only interested in the lurid details of their crimes; there's a third that wants its audience to have a good time at the expense of nuance, the "go girl" version.
Scafaria avoids all of of that. There's little nudity, but she doesn't deny the sex appeal of the situations she's putting on screen. But she re-contextualizes the way women's bodies are looked at by almost completely ignoring the men in the room. Far from the sexposition popularized by the likes of The Sopranos and countless other TV shows and movies over the years, Scafaria's camera adopts the perspective of the women in the club, admiring the strength and athleticism of the work. Her gaze, aided by cinematographer Todd Banhazl subtle work, deftly acknowledges the power dynamics at play, and how those can shift over the course of a single evening, but she refuses to belittle her protagonists even at their lowest points.
The magic of Hustlers also lies in the ingenious casting. Lopez has found her ultimate role in Ramona, who thrives on a specific alchemy of savvy and delusion. The shot of her, lounging in a giant fur coat, smoking a cigarette on the roof, will go down as one of the defining images of her career, but her performance is more than just braggadocio. Lopez makes it clear that Ramona's walking a metaphorical tightrope to maintain the glamorous life she has cultivated, and every so often allows the audience to see what Ramona is like when the armor falls away.
She's matched excellently by Wu, as the neophyte who eventually becomes Ramona's equal. Wu's work on the TV series Fresh Off the Boat and in last year's mega-successful Crazy Rich Asians indicates that she knows how to land a punchline, but here she gets a richer canvas, where she wavers between wryness, exhaustion, and affinity for the person who becomes her business partner and close friend. Their scamming foursome is rounded out by True Jackson, VP's Keke Palmer and Riverdale's Lili Reinhart, both of whom are allowed both vulnerability and great visual jokes.