Hustle REVIEW: A Terrific Tribute To Basketball
Adam Sandler’s portrayal as Howard Ratner, an obsessive gambling addict who gambles on NBA games for his entire life, in Uncut Gems was a landmark performance by a once-legendary comedian. Uncut Gems was Sandler’s best film and it earned him an Oscar. It also rekindled his love for more dramatic roles. He is back with Hustle, another great basketball movie that offers another amazing dramatic performance.
Sandler portrays Stanley Sugerman (a scout) for the Philadelphia 76ers. Rex Merrick, the 76ers’ owner, promotes Stanley to Assistant Coach after returning from a recent trip. Merrick is killed in the evening. Vince Foster (Ben Foster) degrades Stanley to scout so that he can find the “missing piece” that will make the team win the next NBA finals.
Sugerman, on a trip to Mallorca, finds it in Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez), who is a basketball prodigy but has a turbulent past. Because of his past, Vince rejects Cruz. But Stanley wants to prove him wrong and get him into the combine. There, he will face off against Kermit Wilts (Anthony Edwards), Bo’s opponent.
All the sports movie clichés are there. The film’s story is very reminiscent of Ryan Coogler’s Creed, in which an older person becomes the mentor for a potential athlete. The film’s ending is a happy, uplifting one. It follows a beat-for-beat redemption story that benefits not only Stanley but also Bo. The film’s emotional core is what makes it compelling.
Stanley is not Rocky Balboa, but he is Bo’s coach. He encourages Bo when he is feeling down and tries to protect him when Kermit begins to pursue Bo’s mother and daughter in court. Sandler and Hernangomez are a great couple. They are both great together; Hernangomez is particularly funny in many scenes. You can also feel Sandler’s passion as he puts together a list of NBA players with Jeremiah Zagar to bring the film to life.
Who would have thought that Timberwolves player Anthony Edwards could be so skilled (and intimidating) at playing Kermit Wilts? Kenny Smith, also known as “The Jet,” plays Leon Rich, a sports agent. Hustle’s inclusion of former NBA players in the film adds authenticity, making the experience of watching Stanley and Bo win in the game more real. It wouldn’t have worked as well, however, if the players weren’t able to give convincing performances.
Some critics believe that non-NBA players may be confused by scenes in which Sandler and other NBA stars use terminology related to basketball and don’t always explain it clearly to the audience. While non-NBA fans may not be familiar with every player, this knowledge does not hinder the movie’s enjoyment. We are drawn to Sugerman’s story with Bo Cruz. Together, they prove that he can become a major player in the sport and live a life of purpose.
It’s also one of the most beautiful movies of the year. The cinematography of Zak Mulligan is so dynamic with lots of quick cuts and smash zooms as well as drone shots that it draws us into Stanley Sugerman’s chaotic world. Although it is vastly different in terms of characters and story, it has many aesthetic similarities with Uncut Gems, thanks to its fast-paced editing and kinetic cinematography.
Uncut Gems and Hustle, as such, are two of Sandler’s greatest accomplishments as an actor. They not only show Sandler’s passion for basketball but also remind us of how great an actor he can be when he takes care of the material he has given. Although I wouldn’t recommend seeing both films together, they are worth the effort if you’re a fan of basketball, or even just a casual viewer.