Jeremiah Zagar and Adam Sandler give us a grounded and detailed look behind the curtain of professional basketball in one of the better sports films of the last few years.
Sandler shines as Stanley Sugarman, a talented but jaded Sixers scout with dreams of coaching in the NBA. Sandler’s infectious love of basketball comes through in “Hustle”, but its the fatigue and vulnerability he brings to Sugarman that really drives the emotional core of the film. He is precise and understated, highlighting his characters 30+ year struggle as an aging NBA scout and father who is not as present as he would like to be.
Juancho Hernangomez plays Bo Cruz, a talented, blue-collar construction worker from Spain who hustles basketball players for money in his off time to support his mother and young daughter. Hernangomez is subtle yet effective as Bo. Zagar obviously showed a tremendous amount of restraint with this role, which proved to be beneficial. The quiet, unpolished nature of Hernangomez’s performance lends itself to the credibility and authenticity present in the film.
As an NBA fan, it was great to see all the cameos and roles from current and former NBA stars. I really appreciated how they all respectfully fit into the narrative and never felt too cheap or gimmicky. Speaking to that respect, The city of Philadelphia, which is no stranger to inspirational sports movies, was lovingly represented. I was pleasantly surprised at how self aware the film was of that shared history.
“Hustle” is a well-made, heartfelt, and grounded sports film that will check the boxes for most fans of that genre. While I do wish it would’ve leaned more into the dramatic elements of some of the characters and their backgrounds, I also appreciated the uplifting levity of the film as it is. I’ll just always be a sucker for a good hoop flick.