Starring: Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangomez, Queen Latifah, Ben Foster, Anthony Edwards, Kenny Smith, Robert Duvall, María Botto, and Jordan Hull
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Just because Hustle isn’t reinventing the wheel - it’s basically Basketball Rocky - doesn’t mean that it isn’t a damn fine sports drama. It hits all the required beats of being inspirational and heartfelt, but wraps them in an authenticity and sincerity that elevates even the most predictable elements. Adam Sandler’s love for basketball is palpable in his performance, which is maybe the most natural of his career, and his easy chemistry with Juancho Hernangomez is remarkable. Flat out, Hustle is one of the best sports movies I’ve seen in probably a decade and the best basketball movie I’ve seen in who knows how long.
Hustle is a feel good sports movie that may not rank as an upper echelon underdog story, but it will have you cheering nonetheless. Adam Sandler’s passion for the game is evident, looking like he just walked in from one of his viral pick-up games, three-month old beard and all, while mixing his comedic stylings with some dramatic intensity. However, he never strays too far in either direction. Juancho Hernangomez’s performance is surprisingly believable, and NBA star Anthony Edwards revels as the villainous rival. The NBA’s hands are all over this, sanctioning tons of roles and cameos, altogether making Hustle a journey to root for.
The film itself never quite gets above average in its storytelling, but Hustle remains worth exploring for viewers, even if it’s only for its two leading performances. Not everything excels, but almost everything works. Adam Sandler’s career resurgence appears to be in full swing post-Uncut Gems, but while the titan of industry shows no signs of slowing down, his co-lead Juancho Hernangomez is hot on his heels. With enough real-world cameos to make it feel like Endgame for NBA fans, this film is still a showcase for the young star, and he puts on a damn good show.
Hustle is definitely a sports film for sports fans, particularly basketball lovers, and it feels like a passion project that was crafted with love. At times, things feel tropey and familiar, with some clear homages to Rocky popping up, but the sharp, fast-paced editing makes for an exciting watch. Plus, Adam Sandler is an immediate Oscar contender for Best Actor, giving a performance that will easily go down as one of his best. As someone who doesn’t care for sports, I found my interest waning at parts, but I have to say, objectively, Hustle is one of the best sports films of all time.
If you’re looking for something new, you won’t find it in Hustle. Thankfully, it’s so endearing and easy to fall for that I can forgive the film for that. Adam Sandler, once again, proves he’s a tremendous dramatic actor. His love of basketball is apparent, as this might be the most natural and least chaotic Sandler has ever been, and Juancho Hernangomez also gives an incredible performance in his acting debut. The film is extremely well edited and is clearly made with love and passion, which makes it hard not to get sucked into.