Hustlers is forthright and formidable in its depiction of female power, but it’s also a righteously angry piece of filmmaking: angry at the ways women are asked to degrade themselves for a livable wage, at gendered systems that value women for their bodies and men for their accomplishments, and certainly at the leering investment bankers who robbed America blind then spent it at the club. But, thrillingly, it channels that anger into something magnificent: a working-class revenge fantasy in which long-underestimated women take back their agency, and then a little something extra for their troubles.
When Jennifer Lopez (Oscar-worthy as Ramona, the ringleader in a rhinestone G-string) first grips the pole, for a show-stopping dance set to Fiona Apple’s pulsating “Criminal,” it’s a scene that belongs in the pantheon of great cinematic intros. As she spins and twirls, beguiling gravity along with the audience, Lopez is as in control of her craft as De Niro in Raging Bull, and she feels every bit as fearsome a warrior. Hustlers is her movie and a boisterous, whip-smart moment for the crime-caper genre.
STREAM IT: ‘Unbelievable‘ (Netflix)
You won’t see a tougher episode of television this year than the opening hour of Unbelievable, but this Netflix series—adapted from a Pulitzer-winning ProPublica investigation of sexual assault—is essential viewing nonetheless.
In the first of eight episodes, two detectives are called to a Washington apartment building for at-risk youth, where Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) is questioned, repeatedly, after reporting her rape to police. The clinical detachment with which she’s treated, the lack of comfort she’s afforded whilst recounting her trauma—inflicted by a stranger who broke in and threatened Marie’s life before brutally assaulting her—is most stomach-churning in how credible it feels. The male detectives, callous and methodical, work more to poke holes in Marie’s story than to pursue suspects. Instead of acknowledging how trauma can impede memory, and how there’s no “wrong” way to process such an ordeal, they conclude Marie’s lying and, eventually, pressure her into recanting.
This all unfolds within Unbelievable‘s heartbreaking, enraging first hour; it isn’t until the next installment that we shift forward three years and across state lines, where two female detectives, Karen Duvall (Merritt Wever) and Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette), are investigating a pair of rape cases in Colorado that bear unmistakable similarities to Marie’s.