Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
Hustle is an excellent sports drama that will inspire and delight audiences, delivering one of Adam Sandler’s best films in recent memory.
It’s too easy to judge a film based on the talent involved, especially when the talent involved is Adam Sandler. Sandler is infamous for his comedies, and while he has had some truly enjoyable ones like Just Go With It, 50 First Dates and Murder Mystery, he has also been responsible for such disasters as Jack and Jill and Hubie Halloween. However for his latest film, Sandler takes on a more dramatic role as a basketball scout who has discovered the next all star player while in Spain, and makes it his mission to get him into the NBA at any cost.
Typically, sports dramas are based on a true story, and Hustle is the first one in recent memory that is not based on real life events. It's refreshing in a genre that is stuffed with films based on iconic players or sporting events, generating more stakes to the story as you do not know how it is going to play out, while containing all the hallmarks of what makes the genre such a crowd pleaser. We get the story of two families, each with their own struggles, lots of basketball, and a friendship between the two main characters that brings the film to life. The screenplay is excellent, focusing more on the characters than the basketball sequences to ensure that you are taken on a journey with these characters, rather than watching basketball for two hours. There are some great basketball scenes throughout the film, but unlike many sports dramas, there is no big third act sporting event that takes over the last twenty minutes of the film. Each moment of basketball is purposeful, never existing just for the sake of having a big game, but playing perfectly into the character and story development.
While he is known mainly for his comedic roles, Sandler is a wonderful dramatic actor and he is at the top of his game here as Stanley Sugerman. The range he has in the role is excellent, capturing a depth that bonds the audience to his character as you watch him risk it all to give this young basketball player every opportunity as he tries to help him break into the NBA. Yes, Sandler may have some wonderful comedic moments throughout the film, but it’s his emotional moments that are the standout parts of his performance. Make no mistake, this is one of Sandler’s best performances of his entire career alongside his work in Uncut Gems and Punch-Drunk Love.
Opposite Sandler is basketball star Juancho Hernangómez in his film debut, and what a wonderful performance he gives. It’s hard to believe that this is his first acting role as Hernangómez lights up the screen with his magnetic personality, while finding a true vulnerability to his character that builds the emotional and inspiring story. His on screen chemistry with Sandler is exceptional, with the two of them forging an undeniable bond that is the beating heart of the entire film.
There is no denying that Sandler and Hernangómez are the stars of the film, but the supporting cast is just as great when given the spotlight. Queen Latifah is delightful as Stanley’s wife Teresa, bringing a warmth and determination to the role that makes her excellent whenever she is on screen. Ben Foster always makes for a great villain, and that is no different in this film where he stars as the new operating manager of Stanley's team Vince Merrick. Oozing with wickedness and privilege, Foster is perfect in his role as he fully immerses himself in the egotistical monster that is Vince, creating the exact antagonist that the story requires. Former basketball star Kenny Smith is impressive as Stanley’s friend Leon, Robert Duvall shines in a small but pivotal role as Vince’s father Rex Merrick, and Heidi Gardner is great as Kat Merrick even if she is greatly underused.
Of note to fans of basketball, the film is full of cameos from current and past NBA stars. It’s almost too many as the credits go on for a solid two minutes showcasing all of the players who had small roles or cameos in the film. But, each star is woven into the story so that they fit into the narrative rather than being a flashy appearance for fan service, which is the subtle way a cameo should be handled, which is unfortunately the opposite of most of the cameos in Hollywood today.
I’m still shocked by how good this film is, as I did not believe that an Adam Sandler sports drama would be this good. But Hustle has all the potential to be one of the sleeper hits of the entire summer that you do not even need to leave your house to enjoy. It is too bad the marketing for this film isn’t bigger, as Netflix has a hit on their hand that is perfect for the entire family to enjoy! Revelling in the best parts of an excellent sports drama combined with two outstanding lead performances from Adam Sandler and Juancho Hernangómez, Hustle is a crowd pleasing experience from start to finish that is both wildly entertaining and incredibly inspirational like any good sports drama should be.