NBA talent scout Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) is loyal to his beloved Philadelphia 76ers, and is reputation is respected throughout the industry. However, he’s burning the candle at both ends and he’s growing more restless towards the required travelling that keeps him away from his family. Management is rearranged, as well as Stanley’s brief raise, and the pressure is on to find the next big star.
Enter Bo Cruz, played by Utah Jazz power forward Juancho Hernangómez in an impressive acting debut. Sugerman is floored by the Spanish streetballer, and is very adamant to bring Cruz to America for a potential draft. All parties are reluctant at first (with 76ers co-manager Vince Merrick [Ben Foster] being the most apprehensive), but Stanley is willing to bet his whole career on a possible future for Bo.
Hustle is an underdog story no matter how you slice it, and an endearing one at that. However, this movie isn’t a typical sports movie. It knows how to strike inspiring chords with encouraging spirit and a good sense of humour – it delivers on the audience’s expectations who are looking for a hearty and entertaining movie. But, the premise is elevated above clichés by extremely strong performances, a terrific script written by Taylor Materne (NBA 2k19, NBA 2k20) and Oscar nominated screenwriter Will Fetters (2018’s A Star Is Born), and an inventive vision from We Are Animals director Jeremiah Zagar that genuinely hits all of the right empathetic cues.
Sandler, who previously wowed so many people with his unpredictable turn in Uncut Gems, is at the top of his game yet again in Hustle. He eases into this performance so well. The actor’s admiration for basketball outside of his career certainly plays into the character’s interest and how Stanley is able to lock into any game (similar traits as seen in Uncut Gems, but to a significantly less toxic degree). In the past, the funnyman has leaned on self-aggrandizing roles to make his characters likeable. With Stanley, Sandler brings the same friendly charm but also allows himself to be seen in a vulnerable panic. He does such an excellent job at characterizing Stanley’s loyalty that it hurts to see him knocked down.
Queen Latifah, who plays Stanley’s wife Teresa, holds her own in what could’ve been a thankless role. As Stanley’s support system, she’s strong and really funny when she’s challenged by his stubbornness. Likewise for the real-life athletes who portray themselves or other industry folk alongside Sandler. As someone who isn’t acquainted with the sport, no one in the ensemble stuck out like a sore thumb with their acting.
For a film that passes with flying colours across the board, I sincerely believe Hustle has the makings of a sports classic.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie