Adam Sandler delivers one of his finest performances in a gripping sports drama. Hustle follows a veteran NBA scout and a talented Spanish player as they both pursue their hoop dreams. The film does not reinvent a tried and tested formula for the genre. The result is frankly beyond doubt. Hustle shows that travel makes you stronger. Fight for every chance you get. Those who persevere put themselves in the best possible position. There’s no chance of making a difference if you don’t get in on the game.
Stanley Sugarman (Sandler) is a tired player scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. He spends all his time on the road prospecting; leaving his beloved wife, Theresa (Queen Latifah), and teenage daughter, Alex (Jordan Hull), at home. Stanley missed nine of his birthdays. He desperately wants to coach and be there for his family.
A failed trip to Mallorca, Spain, has a frustrated Stanley wandering the streets. He comes across a crowd cheering on a pickup game for money. Stanley is blown away by Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez), a construction worker playing in his boots. Stanley follows Bo to his small apartment. He lives with his mother, Paola (María Botto), and young daughter, Lucia (Ainhoa Pillet). Stanley is furious when Vince Merrick (Ben Foster), the 76ers general manager and son of the owner (Robert Duvall), refuses to give Bo a chance. Stanley decides to deal with his own money and sends Bo to Philadelphia. He will risk everything to prepare Bo for the NBA Draft combine.
Hustle does not play for the highlight reel. Stanley and Bo look outside. Stanley’s career as a scout has earned him the respect of players and colleagues. The truth is, he never stepped onto the pitch for a real professional game. Bo comes from a poor background with a troubled past. No one will open doors for them. Stanley understands what it takes to be successful. He’ll have to push himself and Bo to their limits to even get a chance. It’s not easy when others expect failure.
Humor and tension in Hustle
Hustle strikes a good balance between humor and tension. The opening is quite funny. The film then settles into a serious narrative. Director Jeremiah Zagar (We the animals) sprinkles in light moments at key moments. Stanley and Bo are on a mission to be seen. They have to raise their profile during the grueling preparation. Zagar uses different visual techniques to accompany mood swings. The audience feels the ups and downs of the protagonists. It’s done especially well in the second act when Stanley changes his strategy for Bo.
I loved the film’s focus on family. Stanley and Bo don’t exist in a vacuum. Their sacrifices resonate. Queen Latifah adds a vital supporting role as Theresa. She encouraged Stanley to reach greater heights, but rightly worries about the enormous cost. Theresa helps Stanley see the bigger picture in a more responsible way. Their marriage and partnership add an endearing dose of realism.
Adam Sandler has dramatic chops
Sandler has honed his dramatic chops with prominent roles in his recent picks. Stanley has a degree of sophistication that Sandler couldn’t play in his early years. The character has measured resolve. He doesn’t fly off and engage in silly comedy. Stanley gives Bo his professionalism as a mentor and friend. Sandler elevated his acting skills to portray subtle nuances.
You don’t have to be a basketball or sports fan to enjoy this movie. It’s full of big-name cameos and celebrities, but that’s not the draw. Hustle has a good script that is well acted and directed. This is easily Sandler’s best movie for Netflix.
Hustle is produced by Happy Madison Productions, SpringHill Company and Roth/Kirschenbaum Films. It’s currently on a limited theatrical release with a worldwide first streaming on Netflix on June 8th.