AMC has imported a captivating look at con men that hits the small screen with the cinematic flair of recent grifter pics. “Hustle,” which each week finds a smoothly integrated quintet of con artists scamming their mark, has the sharpness of the recent remakes of “Italian Job” and “Ocean’s Eleven” and plots that circle a single con with a surfeit of fun incidentals. Following raves in the U.K. over two seasons, “Hustle” should develop a healthy following during its 18-week run.
Each of the five ensemble players is a specialist, from card shark to accident victim to pickpocket, working for master inside man Mickey Stone (Adrian Lester). Stone, a well-dressed smoothie, imparts Zen-like commandments — “don’t have anything you can’t walk away from in a minute” — to his charges, who follow him blindly. Lester plays Stone with an assurance that’s immediately addictive; when he shows some vulnerability in the second seg, it only serves to make his character complete.
As Albert Stroller, former “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” star Robert Vaughn finds the marks; those who need a bit of seducing are placed in the path of Stacie Monroe (Jaime Murray), who also works as an identity thief. Ash Morgan (Robert Glenister) and Danny Blue (Marc Warren) handle surveillance, disguises and execution of plans that make the victim feel like he’s made a bad investment rather than been swindled.
The cons are more addicted to the grift than the riches; they’re likable thieves who watch each other’s backs. It’s easy to cheer for them as they walk away from a convoluted illegal stock purchase gone wrong with £100,000 ($176,000) to share. Or when they create a movie star (Monroe) and a mogul (Blue) to get revenge on a casino owner who wronged Stroller. (Sure, Stroller was cheating, but sympathies, being what they are, rest with him). Blue is the student in the crew, and his screw-ups help humanize the operation.
“Hustle” has its farfetched moments, which never detract, but Bharat Nalluri’s keen direction keeps the action fluid and linear. Storylines in the first two segs have a splendid rationale that would only reveal holes upon unnecessarily close inspection. Top-notch production values deserve imitation in the U.S.