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New Escapist Column! “Knives Out” and the Suggestion that the Rich are Not So Sharp…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. This one covers something that I’ve wanted to talk about for a little while, which is the interesting aspect of this year’s recurring theme of class warfare that runs through works as diverse as Joker, HustlersReady or Not, Succession, Parasite and Knives Out.

To be fair, it is not unusual to see this sort of tension playing out on the big screen. After all, American cinema has long been fascinated by working class con men and hucksters getting one over on the wealthy establishment. However, what distinguishes the recent crop of media exploring this theme is the recurring suggestion that the wealthy are not especially sharp. Historically, the rich have been portrayed as canny and suave – often dangerous adversaries because of their ruthlessness and relentlessness. What is interesting about the class warfare dimension of this year’s films is the way in which money and success often seem to have coddled the wealthy leaving them surprisingly naive and foolish despite their arrogance and privilege.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Hustlers

Hustlers wears its influences on its sleeve, which no small accomplishment for a movie about a bunch of criminal strippers.

Hustlers is adapted from Jessica Pressler’s 2015 New York Magazine article, covering a post-recession swindle orchestrated by a group of enterprising strippers. The film is a tale of greed and commercialism, of opulence and corruption. The premise practically writes itself. Hustler is a story that is just lurid enough and just timely enough and just charged enough that it all comes together perfectly. The film’s narrative exists at an intersection of money and sex and drugs, but is anchored in a broader cultural and social context that uses this seemingly trashy set-up to say something seemingly profound about the American condition.

Given the premise and themes, it is no surprise that Hustlers should take so many of its cues from the films of Martin Scorsese. Joker has dominated a lot of the autumnal discussion about Scorsese’s influence on contemporary cinema with its obvious debts to films like Taxi Driver or King of Comedy, but Hustlers is just as transparent in the debts that it owes to Goodfellas, Casino and The Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese’s influence is felt on every inch of the film, from the film-making to the narrative structure to the awkward articulation of the central theme in the closing scene. It is both a strength and a weakness for Hustlers.

While Hustlers occasionally feels a little too indebted to the work of Scorsese to stand on its own two feet, the film largely works. Part of this is down to the skill and playfulness with which director Lorene Scafaria acknowledges her influence. Part of this is down to the film’s engaging charm and sense of humour, belying a compelling moral sophistication befitting the films that it is so obviously evoking. A lot of it comes down to the strong casting, including a compelling central dynamic and a powerhouse performance from Jennifer Lopez.

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