‘Hustle’ Review: Is It Adam Sandler’s Best Ever?

Adam Sandler has found a perfect niche for himself in Netflix’s new sports drama “Hustle.” Director Jeremiah Zager already said on a couple of websites that the making of this film was greatly inspired by “Raging Bull.” Well, “Hustle,” to some extent, is a great movie, if not a stand-alone “Raging Bull” in itself. Adam Sandler, as we all know, maintains two sides of himself quite perfectly. He does movies so ridiculous that you wish you’d never watched them, and also critically acclaimed movies. The role he played in this movie could not be more significant in classifying the whole film as a good film.

Well, before we jump right into reviewing the film, let’s talk about Adam Sandler for a bit. As we know, he is among the first actors in Hollywood to jump onto streaming platforms. He considered that this audience would love to watch his comedy movies. Adam Sandler was known to be performing in comedy-dramas that would tell stories about how Hollywood is the worst place of all. But, in recent times, his serious approach to films like Uncut Gems and The Meyerowitz Stories stunned the audience quite a lot. He has maintained the balance of good movies and bad movies quite perfectly. The performance he puts in ‘Hustle’ is worth a nomination for the Oscars.


‘Hustle’ Summary – Let’s Settle In With The Plot First

Stanley Beren (played by Adam Sandler) also goes by the name 22 (his jersey number during his game days) and is a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, an American professional basketball team. He travels all over the world to scout players for the team, and finally, when he finds a player named Haas, his opinion is denied in the board meetings. However, the owner of the 76ers valued his opinion based on his honesty and offered him the position of Assistant Coach on the team. After nine long years, finally, everything is going Stanley’s way. He doesn’t like being the scout as he misses his daughter’s birthdays. With the chance of being the assistant coach, he can now enjoy family time as well as be more involved with the game he loves. But, soon, Rex Merrick (played by Robert Duvall), the owner of the 76ers, dies, and his son Vince Merrick (played by Ben Foster), who denied Stanley’s opinion in the board meeting, becomes the owner. So, without any surprise, Stanley is put right back in the zone, a zone for scouting. 

Back in business, Stanley goes to Spain in search of a basketball player who eventually has an injury. So, he thinks of doing some baskets in the neighborhood when he comes across a place where some random guys are hustling over the basketball game. He sees some of the most vicious skills in basketball, and he feels the urge to pick a player among them. There comes a 6’7″ guy with some incredible long hands. He blocks the shots, puts the ball into the basket from everywhere around the court, and also runs pretty fast. Stanely is never as amazed as that, seeing this guy doing his stuff like that, so he follows him to his home. After a funny and emotional interaction, Stanely finally gets the guy into Philly. However, Vince is not convinced and declines Stanley’s opinion on this guy, named Bo Cruz.

With a disturbed childhood and a struggling youth, Bo Cruz started well, but during an exhibition match, he fell right into the traps of sledding. He cannot ignore it, and it affects his game badly. As Bo Cruz fails to impress the selectors, Stanley now leaves the 76ers to devote his full time to making Bo Cruz a better player. After a couple of weeks of hard work and rigorous training, Bo Cruz is finally ready to face anything like an iceberg (a reference used by Stanley). But, the worst is yet to come. Bo fought long back, for which he was charged with a serious assault. Now, Vince brings it to the media, and the chance of Bo playing for the 76ers gets snubbed again. However, Stanley’s daughter Alex (played by Jordan Hull) came up with an idea. She shoots a video of Bo Cruz making street basketball players look like fools. The video gets viral, and everyone wants Bo Cruz in the ‘Combine,’ a place where professional basketball players get picked through several tests and interviews.

Although, after all the hard work, Bo again falls into the sledding trap and fails to perform at his best. He feels remorseful and, at the same time, understands Stanely’s impact on his life. But, a lucky break finally takes place as Stan’s friend manages to get Bo’s name into a friendly match where there will be no media, only the selectors and some officials. Bo comes and performs for a lifetime. Another lucky break happens as Vince is now removed as the owner of the 76ers. In his place comes his sister, Kat Merrick (played by Heidi Gardner), who is already an admirer of Stanley. Stanley becomes the assistant coach again, and Bo is finally on the team with a number that once belonged to Stan the Man, number 22.


Talking About A Performance Of A Lifetime

Let’s take a moment out of the plot and, if you have already seen the movie, take Adam Sandler’s journey in this as a point of discussion now. Stanley could have been a great basketball player, but one accident took everything from him. On the other hand, Bo Cruz’s father left him with a mother to feed, and he has a daughter at the age of 22. Both men sacrificed their childhood dreams and are now on a journey together to live what’s left of them. There was a time Stanley said to her wife Teresa (played by Queen Latifah), that a 50 years old man doesn’t have dreams but anxiety and nightmares. But, he ended up chasing his dream. Age doesn’t stop you from dreaming.

Another meaningful impact that brought some sentimental aspects was Bo Cruz’s tattoos. When asked, he said all the tattoos were for his mother and daughter. The left hand remained empty to denote that there was no father. At the end of the film, there comes an oak tree as a tribute to Stanley, although it says “Never Back Down,” so officially, it is a tribute to LeBron James. But anyway, the point is that Bo starts to look at Stanley as a father figure. Even Stanley referred to Bo as’ good to see you, son ‘at the end of the film. The chemistry between a great player and a mentor is supposed to be indestructible. It was a sentimental ride all along, with a hint of comedy inside. The time when Stanley gave a speech to never back down is pretty inspiring too. The point he said obsession beats talent every day is somehow can be considered one of the most inspiring comments of recent times.


Let’s Be Critically Technical Now

Regarding the screenplay, yes, it was gripping. The music used in the background is mostly street music, so it already gives the chills all the time. Sports dramas like these always have an impact on cinematography. In ‘Hustle,’ the cinematography was impressive, if not innovative. The transitions were as good as they got in the practice sessions. Apart from these, the dialogues too were written with a sharp note. However, there was one thing that could raise some questions. While there were so many misfortunes, getting a call to perform for one last time was admirable, yes, but Vince getting boxed at the same time seemed a bit exaggerated in terms of a good screenplay. Bo’s performance was at its extreme, and eventually, he would get a place on the team. 

But, there can be justification as well. Vince once said during the board meeting that if Rex disagrees with him, someone might get murdered at his hands. Soon after, Rex was dead. So, all in all, it was a nice touch, in the end, to cast suspicion over Vince, whether he was responsible for the death of his father. Was he? What’s your take on this little mystery here?


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Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy is a creative content writer. Formerly he used to write film reviews on an international film festival website named Beyond the Curve International Film Festival. He also interviewed global directors. He also interviewed one of the characters from the show 'Trailer Park Boys', Mr. Bernard Robichaud, platformed in Netflix. Shovan tends to write through the third person narrative and he loves to do psychoanalysis. He can't say that he has mastered it but that is some sort of hobby of his. Film is a platform where he loves to spend most of his time learning.

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