Hustle Review: Inspiring Sports Drama Soars on the Skills of Adam Sandler

There has been a lot of conversation over the past couple of years about types of movies that "they just don't make anymore." Franchises and superheroes have dominated the box office and streaming services, causing people to ask about movies they've always loved, ones that used to make a lot of money and get everyone talking but for some reason have fallen by the wayside. For many, myself included, there's a longing for the return of the sports drama. Outside of the Creed films and The Way Back, there hasn't been much in recent memory. Movies like Any Given Sunday, Bull Durham, and Friday Night Lights feel like relics of the past. Who knew Adam Sandler would be the star to come along and resurrect this genre. Hustle, the upcoming Netflix basketball film, feels like a classic sports drama in all the best ways.

Hustle tells the story of Stanley Sugerman (Sandler), an international scout for the Philadelphia 76ers that has long wanted to get off the road and coach on the sidelines. When he thinks that opportunity has finally arrived, he's sent back to Europe once again to find the team's "missing piece," a superstar caliber player that can elevate the Sixers to a championship team. Stanley finds this prospect in an unknown construction worker from Spain, Bo Cruz, played by real-life NBA player Juancho Hernangomez. Things don't go perfectly with the Sixers when Stanley proposes bringing Cruz in to sign with the team, but he knows the kid's talent and puts everything he has into preparing Cruz for the NBA Draft.

In addition to starring as Sugerman, Sandler also produced Hustle alongside LeBron James. From the scripting of the character to Sandler's performance, it's easy to see that this was a bit of a passion project for the beloved comedy star for quite some time. Sugerman and Sandler have a lot in common. Stanley laments being on the road and the insane dedication that his job requires, as it keeps him away from his family, while Sandler has spent decades building a career to avoid that very thing because his family has always been his priority. Sandler is also a basketball obsessive.

The attachment from Sandler bleeds through his performance, which is easily his most personal in quite some time. There's no overt silliness like many of Sandler's roles (though he will forever be the best at those types of characters), and this isn't a major dramatic turn for him like Uncut Gems. This is a very natural and comfortable Sandler, which is one of the best versions of Sandler there is.

It helps that he's surrounded by a stellar supporting cast. As a basketball fan, I've always known Hernangomez as a player, but if you never watched basketball it would be easy to just assume he's been acting professionally this entire time. He brings so much depth and sincerity to Bo Cruz, and his chemistry with Sandler is such a joy to watch. Speaking of chemistry with Sandler, Queen Latifah should star in several more movies with the Sandman. Sandler has co-stars like Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore that he has worked with fairly regularly, and Latifah should absolutely become a part of that lineup. (If you've never seen Queen Latifah in a rom-com, she's one of the very best in the business.)

Every actor in this movie gets a great spotlight because it never tries to be too much, allowing the performances to really breathe and evolve and sit with you. Screenwriters Will Fetters and Taylor Materne show great restraint throughout, never losing focus of the mission at hand and aiming to create extra drama. The Sugermans didn't almost get divorced. Stanley didn't have a heart attack in the third act (something that seemed inevitable after the focus on his eating habits). This is a straightforward underdog story about both Stanley and Bo, and the consistent clarity of that objective made the film's simplicity its biggest asset.

Director Jeremiah Zagar should take a ton of credit for that as well, though his biggest strength comes through in how he shot many of the basketball scenes. The one-on-one closeups during the games made it feel more tense and intimate, raising the stakes for the viewer. The wider basketball shots were equally as impressive. There was a flow to the game that most directors aren't quite sure how to capture, resulting in choppy editing that takes away from the basketball experience. With as many basketball names as there are associated with this movie, there was clearly an effort to find someone who could get the game right, and Zagar was the perfect choice.

Hustle isn't something that hasn't been seen or done before, it's just a much better version of those things than we've seen in a very, very long time. This kind of mid-budget adult sports drama has been sorely missed and Hustle represents an immensely satisfying return to form for the genre. Hopefully, it provides the foundation for many more to come.


Rating: 4 out of 5

Hustle debuts on Netflix on June 8th.