Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 57 minutes, Director – Jeremiah Zagar
Desperate to make it as a coach, basketball scout Stanley (Adam Sandler) believes that he has found the next major NBA star in street player Bo (Jauncho Hernangomez).
Often what makes a great sports movie isn’t in the sporting action itself. It’s in the connection that formed with the characters. If you care about them you’ll more than likely care about what they’re trying to achieve in their respective sports. It’s one of the reasons why I (a person who has no interest in sports) consider 2017’s Borg Vs. McEnroe to be the best film of that year, working as an excellent character study above anything else.
While new-to-Netflix Hustle isn’t quite as in depth a character piece it does present a likable figure in the form of Adam Sandler’s Stanley Sugarman. As his career finally appears to be developing with the opportunity to make it as a basketball coach for the Philadelphia 76ers the team’s owner Rex Merrick (a fleetingly brief Robert Duvall) passes away. Son Vince (Ben Foster) is quickly brought in to lead the new co-ownership, alongside sister Kat (Heidi Gardner), whose presence fluctuates throughout the film, and decides to keep Stanley as a scout, unless he can find the next star player for the team.
Cue the discovery of Spanish street player Bo (Jauncho Hernangomez), a potential star in the making who instantly casts a light on Stanley’s personal career hopes, and simple wants to finally be able to be at home for his teenage daughter’s (Jordan Hull) birthday for the first time in nine years. However, as the pair begin training together it’s revealed that while Bo’s skills are impressive he needs to learn to control himself, in particular his anger and the way he reacts to other players. It’s perhaps a strong cliché and convention that we’ve seen done a number of times before, yet because of the energy which flows throughout the film it’s easy to remain caught up in the unfolding events and progression of the two central characters as they both get closer to their NBA dreams and ‘making it’. Much of this energy is created during the various montages and training sequences which line the film. It’s easy to be caught up in them, and in particular the slight warmth of the central relationship between Sandler and Hernangomez.
This is another dramatic-leaning role for Sandler, where he has shown himself to excel in the past, yet there’s no denying the humour that’s present within Hustle. It’s an early effective device which helps to initially bring you in to the world and the characters no matter how familiar you may or may not be with basketball, especially if you don’t recognise all the cameos which are revealed in the credits. What further allows the humour to work is that the spotlight isn’t always being shone on Stanley, the light, fairly natural, gags are spread out amongst the cast, demonstrating this not to be a piece just about Sandler and his character. It’s a key element to how you engage with the film as a whole, and allows for the various relationships within it, and the characters individually, to feel more investing and generally enjoyable.
Yes, there may be a handful of familiar elements within Hustle, however with how engaging and enjoyable the film is it’s fairly easy to look past these and simply get caught up in the story that’s being told at the centre of it. Sandler and Hernangomez lead a solid cast well as two figures you want to see achieve their hopes of progressing in their careers and proving themselves to major figures in the world of basketball. This adds an extra spark to the moments of gameplay thanks to everything that has been built up over the course of the film and the skills that we’ve seen on display up until this point. It’s easy to get caught up by Hustle and the not-quite-underdog tale that it tells so well. It’s a relatively light, if slightly familiar, story that at least uses the former to a strength, increasing the film’s overall ease and energy, and making for highly enjoyable viewing.
While some elements within the narrative may be familiar Hustle works because it tells its story in an energetic and engaging manner. Helped by two strong central performances from Sandler and Hernangomez it’s easy to be caught up in this light and likable not-quite-underdog story.