Hustle is a basketball drama that is enjoyable to watch even if you don’t know the names of the NBA players in the film, that is, if you are like me. There are sixty past and present players and owners listed in the credits as HIMSELF or HERSELF, so if you are a sports fan, Hustle is a fun, must-see film. Not familiar with any of the sixty players – it is still an excellent story of two underdogs trying to beat the odds, taking risks, and overcoming their issues. Hustle is the best drama I have seen this year.
Most of Hustle happens in Philadelphia, so there are portions where you may compare it to the Rocky franchise. You know, rags-to-riches sports story, the first thing you think of is Rocky. But that is not why Hustle is in Philadelphia. The City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia 76ers figure prominently in the story because Philly is a great basketball town. “Best sports fans in the world, actually the worst, but that’s what makes ‘em the best,” is a line in the film. From training on the streets of Philadelphia, scrimmaging in various gyms, to the cheesesteaks and tee shirts (Federal Donuts must mean something in Philadelphia), Philly is part of the film. Also, the Philadelphia 76er organization is the main antagonist in the movie.
Adam Sandler plays Stanley Sugerman, a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, looking for the next great phenom in Europe. He happens upon an unknown Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez) in Spain playing basketball at night for bets after his construction job (a great scene). Without the 76ers approval, Stanley brings Bo back to the US to try to get him into the NBA with the help of his friend Leon (Kenny Smith). Obstacles ensue, including the co-owner of the 76ers, Vince Merrick (Ben Foster, Leave No Trace), training issues, the law – and most devastating – the emotional issues. Queen Latifah does a great job as Stanley’s wife, Teresa Sugerman. I guess she is needed to show Stanley’s misfortunes.
Adam Sandler continues to amaze me as he excels once again in a dramatic role, as he did previously in Uncut Gems and The Meyerowitz Stories. I’m not sure what is needed for Sandler to be nominated by the Academy for his acting. Juancho Hernangomez as Bo Cruz is a 6’9” player with the Utah Jazz, and this is his first acting gig. Juancho’s acting is spot on. He does not overact; he is sincere and restrained, which is perfect for the role. The NBA athletes come off as cool as hell; due to a lot of work by the film editors.
Hustle is an enjoyable basketball drama that requires no interest in sports. The film is a touching human story with great acting, an exciting script, and perfect editing.