THE HUSTLE, US, 2019. Starring Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Dean Norris, Ingrid Oliver, Nicholas Woodeson. Directed by Chris Addison. 94 minutes. Rated M (Crude sexual language and coarse language).
Casting can often make a great difference in interpretation. After all, how often have Shakespeare devotees seen performances of Hamlet, each actor bringing something special to appreciating the character. Well, probably, Hamlet is not a good comparison for a comment on The Hustle. Originally, it was a comic star vehicle for Marlon Brando and David Niven, back in the early 1960s, Bedtime Story. There was an update remake in 1988, with a good combination of Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The story is basically about conmen.
Now is the time for remakes with women taking the men’s roles (Ghostbusters, oceans 8). Here they are Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson – neither of them ready substitutes for the previous male stars. To be looking for comparisons in the making of judgements, better or worse, seems to be something of a futile experience. Each of the performers has their own special presence and style. Which means, then, that the film invites us to go with the casting and enjoy it. The director is a British actor turned director, especially for television series, Chris Addison. There is an entertaining supporting cast, especially Nicholas Woodeson as a put upon Butler, Albert.
So, here we are with two con women, one smooth and stylish although she can do some lapses as well, femme fatale or weeping victim, an Anne Hathaway performance. We first see her on the Riviera, seductive, feigning a dumb Gambler approach, but getting away with the money. Actually, it doesn’t hurt that her collaborator in the casinos works with the police!
Then, amusingly, we are in an American bar, a customer looking at provocative photos but, instead, Rebel Wilson turning up with quite a con spiel about the subject of the photo needing plastic surgery and wangling a $500 contribution and then, of course, beating it, disappearing with only a batch of black bags in sight – from which she emerges bottom first in her black dress! (And the joke is amusingly repeated at the end for both women – in gold dresses.)
They are Josephine and Penny (Penny, as always with Rebel Wilson, from Australia, accent and references and all). Josephine is a schemer but Penny, in her large, flamboyant way, is no slouch in the fraud department.
What follows really is a succession of con tricks, each amusing in its way, and there are able to fleece gullible men at a great rate. But then, they target a nerdish young man (Alex Sharp), IT expert staying on the Riviera hoping to promote his ideas. They make a bet about swindling $500,000 from him. Penny is rather good at what she does, pretending to be hysterically blind. Josephine is able then to pretend to be a German doctor who can cure her. It all gets rather serious, the young man devoted, wanting to help Penny, working with the doctor…
This is a comedy rather than a portrait of fraudsters to be taken too seriously. And, if you like Rebel Wilson as a screen presence, there is much to enjoy.
Universal Released May 9th.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.