The sandman is back with another serious role
Hustle is a love letter to the game of basketball fronted by the perfect man for the job, Adam Sandler.
Sandler has proved twice with The Meyerowitz Stories and Uncut Gems that he plays a serious role just as well, if not better, than a comedic one and now with Hustle he proves it for a third time. He might not see the calls for academy awards that he saw for Uncut Gems but he turns in as good a performance we've ever seen from him.
As far as the performances go in general, the bar is set really high, which you would never normally expect to see in a movie filled mostly with athletes rather than actors. The choice to stay away from using established actors is a big gamble, but it's one that needed to be taken to fully pay tribute to the sport in the way that they set out to, and it's a gamble that pays off. The real standout is Juancho Hernangomez who plays Bo Cruz, a European NBA draft prospect being coached by Stan Sugerman (Sandler). Hernangomez is obviously convincing as an NBA prospect in the physical sense, but is he in an acting sense? We've seen sports stars, particularly basketballers, taken on acting roles time and time again in movies like Space Jam (and a New Legacy), Goal, Simon Sez etc. and it's rarely a pretty sight. Juan Hernangomez is possibly the best of the bunch, he doesn't quite have the amount of heavy lifting to do as Adam Sandler but he also doesn't just come across as an athlete trying out acting, he genuinely deserves to be there on acting merit. And to be fair the same can be said for everyone else, aside from Kenny Smith and Anthony Edwards the majority of the big names are flyby cameos (a very extensive and impressive list of cameos) but everyone plays their part convincingly. I do have to give credit to Anthony Edwards, he looks completely at home on-screen and much like in the NBA he seems to be enjoying himself more than anyone around.
Visually Hustle doesn't disappoint either. It shares the distinct visual style of the other two movies mentioned. In the quieter scenes it adopts the warm tones of the Meyerowitz Stories, while in the high adrenaline and intentionally stress filled scenes the close up shaky cam of Uncut Gems. And while I understand these might sound like fairly common features, it's becoming a very distinct feature of the non-comedic Sandler movies.
When LeBron James moved to LA it was having speculated that a big factor was extending into Hollywood. He's already tried his hand at acting in films such as Trainwreck and Space Jam, Hustle represents his first major production venture. The combination of LeBron and Adam Sandler leads to the most authentic NBA experience possible, without them the stacked cast of players and coaches would likely never have come together. While LeBron himself doesn't star, it's definitely worth giving him credit where due and if nothing else a movie of this caliber fully justifies his decision to begin making moves into the film industry.
Storywise Hustle seems to draw heavy inspiration from the recent success stories of Euroleague turned NBA stars Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic, with the idea of a hidden gem from Europe being a potential All-Star prospect. There isn't too much more to it than that as far as the main storyline goes, that's not to say it's overly simple though either if we had anything more it would likely have become bloated. The story of Stan Superman and his relationship with the 76ers is told perfectly, there's never too much emphasis on his side of things but it keeps you guessing about where he'll end up not only within the organisation but in general. The best part is that it's all kept simple enough that if you're not a fan of the NBA you won't be too lost either, the movie does a pretty good job of filling you in on how the draft works, how scouting might go etc.
It's time to give a verdict. I'm going to be using the system we use on the podcast which is "better or worse than morbius". Hustle is easily better than Morbius and comparing the two feels almost criminal. Adam Sandler kills it in what I would say is one of the best sports movies of all time, every aspect feels perfectly crafted to pay the ultimate tribute to one of the best sports in the world and that's no easy feat. Hustle is well worth a watch whether you're into basketball or not, and for me it's in with a shout of being the best movie I've seen in 2022 so far.