Hustle: Season 1
October 6, 2006
Hustle is a BBC television show (that airs on AMC in North America) that focuses on a group of five professional con artists — grifters who plan elaborate schemes to fleece unsuspecting marks (i.e. victims) of their money. Their primary targets are usually major league players but with these kinds of people comes high risk and maybe an even higher pay-off.
The show’s opening credits wears its influences very much on its sleeve with a very slick, jazzy feel reminiscent, in look, of the ones for Catch Me If You Can (2002) with the music segueing into a trip-hop-ish score much like the one David Holmes composed for Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (2001) remake.
The opening sequence of the first episode shows the five protagonists plying their trades. Mickey (Lester) is the inside man, the suave one who yearns to pull one last long con. Ash (Glenister) is a fixer who can get all kinds of things and fakes accidents to get money. Stacey (Murray) is the sexy, crafty grifter who uses her beauty on her unsuspecting targets. Danny (Warren) is the newest addition to the group, a card shark extraordinaire who likes to take risks. And finally, there is Albert (Vaughn), the veteran of the group whose job it is to rope in the mark and is also a habitual gambler which sometimes gets him in trouble. An additional character, of sorts, is a group of fraud investigators who are hot on their trail and eager to bust these seasoned professional criminals.
The first episode is cleverly structured so that not only is one of the characters conned but so is the audience and at the end all is revealed. Danny is also introduced as the wild card, the newcomer to this tight-knit group. Will he crack under the pressure and can he be intimidated by the cops? Like all good confidence scams, these guys know how to get their intended target to trust them and actually give away their money in such a way that they aren’t even aware that they’ve been taken until it’s too late. This crew is equally adept at the short con (i.e. pickpocketing, etc.) and the long con (milking high rollers of their money) which makes them doubly dangerous. The beauty of a show like Hustle and con artist movies in general is watching the plan come together one piece at a time. Everyone on the team plays their part with skill and finesse and this makes the show so enjoyable to watch.
Hustle is beautifully shot so that each episode is like a slickly produced mini-movie – imagine Ocean’s Eleven: The Movie. The show uses freeze frames, messes with camera speeds, uses inventive camera angles and even has a character break the fourth wall and address the camera or otherwise call attention to the fact that we’re watching a television program.
The show examines what motivates these grifters. Sure, it’s the thrill and challenge of fleecing some rich mark but it is also avoiding the drudgery of working a boring, soulless 9 to 5 job. These people are keen observers of human nature. They know how to gain someone’s confidence and take their money while avoiding being caught by the victim and the authorities. And in a refreshing change of pace, this group doesn’t always succeed every time out and we see what happens when a mark gets wise when one of the con artists screws up. As Hustle progresses through this first season, it gradually delves more into the personal lives of the main characters and their inter-personal relationships.
The first disc includes “Assembling the Team Part 1,” a making of featurette. Director Bharat Nalluri had always wanted to do something in the con men genre and pitched the idea of Hustle to writer Tony Jordan and the BBC. Jordan set to work writing a screenplay and creating this work, drawing his inspirations from Ocean’s Eleven, The Sting (1973) (in terms of style) and many books on con games. This extra goes through the show’s origins, casting and characters with the cast talking about working with each other in a very informative way that is great for those new to this show.
The second disc features the second part to “Assembling the Team” with each of the main cast members gush about each other in this engaging look at how this show came together.
Finally, there are well-written biographies on the main cast members.