Adam Sandler delivers one of his best performances in a captivating sports drama. Hustle follows a veteran NBA scout and talented Spanish player as they both pursue their hoop dreams. The film does not re-invent a tried and true formula for the genre. The outcome is frankly never in doubt. Hustle shows that the journey makes you stronger. Fight for every chance you get. Those who persevere put themselves in the best possible position. There’s zero chance to make a difference if you do not get in the game.
Stanley Sugarman (Sandler) is a weary player scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. He spends all of his time on the road prospecting; leaving his beloved wife, Theresa (Queen Latifah), and teenage daughter, Alex (Jordan Hull), at home. Stanley has missed nine of her birthdays. He desperately wants to coach and be present for his family.
A botched trip to Mallorca, Spain, has a frustrated Stanley roaming the streets. He happens upon a crowd cheering a pick-up game for money. Stanley is blown away by Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangómez), a construction worker playing in his boots. Stanley follows Bo back 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 general manager of the 76ers and owner’s (Robert Duvall) entitled son, refuses to give Bo a chance. Stanley decides to front his own money and fly Bo to Philadelphia. He will risk everything to get Bo ready for the NBA Draft combine.
Hustle does not play for the highlight reel. Stanley and Bo are on the outside looking in. Stanley’s career as a scout has earned him respect from players and colleagues. The truth is that he’s never set foot on the court for an actual professional game. Bo comes from a poor background with a troubled past. No one is going to open any 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 shot. That’s not easy when others are expecting failure.
Humor and Tension in Hustle
Hustle strikes a great balance between humor and tension. The opening is quite funny. The film then settles in for a serious narrative. Director Jeremiah Zagar (We the Animals) sprinkles in light moments at key times. 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 changing moods. The audience feels the highs and lows of the protagonists. This is especially well done in the second act when Stanley changes his strategy for Bo.
I loved the film’s focus on family. Stanley and Bo do not exist in a vacuum. Their sacrifices reverberate. Queen Latifah adds a vital supporting role as Theresa. She’s encouraged Stanley to reach for greater heights but becomes rightly concerned at the tremendous cost. Theresa helps Stanley to see the overall picture in a more responsible way. Their marriage and partnership adds a dose of endearing realism.
Adam Sandler Has Dramatic Chops
Sandler has honed his dramatic chops with substantial roles in his recent choices. Stanley has a degree of sophistication that Sandler could not play in his early years. The character has a measured resolve. He does not fly off the handle or engage in silly theatrics. Stanley imparts professionalism to Bo as a mentor and friend. Sandler’s raised his acting game to portray subtle nuance.
You do not have to be a basketball or sports fan to enjoy this movie. It’s loaded with big-name cameos and celebrities, but that’s not the draw. Hustle has a good script that’s well-acted and directed. It’s easily Sandler’s best movie for Netflix.
Hustle is produced by Happy Madison Productions, SpringHill Company, and Roth / Kirschenbaum Films. It is currently in limited theatrical release with a Netflix global streaming debut on June 8th.