In Adam Sandler’s first serious follow-up to his critically-acclaimed role in Uncut Gems, he stars as Stanley Sugerman, a Philadelphia 76ers basketball scout who desires to get back into the good graces of the NBA. He finds his ticket when he scouts an extremely talented Spanish streetball player named Bo Cruz (played by Juancho Hernangomez). Despite being an excellent scout, Sugerman’s goal is to become a coach, which he achieves rather quickly in the film due to the support of 76ers owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall). Due to an unfortunate death, Sugerman is demoted back to basketball scout by Vince Merrick (Ben Foster), know-it-all son of Rex, who is unwilling to even think of Bo as a possibility. It is now time to fight the odds and get Bo into the NBA Draft Combine for himself, the sake of his poor family back in Spain, and for Stanley to be vindicated in his eye for talent and his place in the NBA.
Due to the nature of sport, it pairs easily with the medium of film. Hustle is a rather straightforward underdog story that could’ve just gotten by based on that natural pairing, but the film makes a point to be more than that. It never feels like a cheap opportunity to make a basic sport movie everyone would like, but it sincerely honors the game of basketball. You can feel the love and respect oozing from the film. It actually feels like a story that could happen, and the audience is taking a peek into the world of the NBA. There are plenty of cameos throughout the movie, but it is never gratuitous. Everybody actually does know everybody in this world, and the movie never glorifies itself or brags about all the cameos.
I was taken aback by how good the craftwork was for Hustle. One of the best things about using real professional basketball players is that the editing and direction has a chance to be more creative considering there is no need to cut away from the shooter because the ball will actually go in! It shows off the beauty of the sport while also perfectly mirroring the tension of the story. Another highlight was the soundtrack. Music is important to many athletes’ lives and how they practice their sport, and clearly they considered this when deciding what to include in the film.
Adam Sandler gives a fantastic performance, but the best part of it is when he was coaching Bo. As one would expect he is loud and passionate, but what is more admirable is his ability to toe the line between his realization that Bo is his final hope to stay relevant but knowing he shouldn’t put that pressure on him. Juancho Hermangomez is no slouch in the movie either. Having been around basketball players for the last few years of my life, I know for a fact they genuinely act the way Bo does. When the performance requires Hernangomez to be more dramatic, he steps up and does solid work. Lastly, Anthony Edwards plays the cocky foil Kermit Wilts, and boy does the camera love him! He has such a natural presence that I almost forgot he was an actual NBA player.
During Hustle, I kept thinking to myself “Why isn’t this in theaters?” and “Why is this dropping in June?” Despite its straightforward nature, the film taps into little gems of inspiration and touches on topics such as violence, talent, and the relationship between age and success. There is a perfectly balanced heart-to-humor ratio which contributes to the accessible nature of the film. I was waiting for the moment where my instincts would kick in and I would realize the film is not as great as it seems, but it never happened. This is an excellent little film that deserves to not be buried in the catalog of Netflix, but shown to the world. Hustle is worth the watch, and now is a great time to watch considering it is the NBA Finals!