By: Russ Matthews
Unlike most other sports, the NBA (National Basketball Association) has managed to capture the hearts of fans from around the world.
This game of hoops has an international flavour despite being played primarily in the United States due to the diversity of players from around the world.
At the heart of Hustle, this looks to be a rags-to-riches story of the discovery of this beyond borders talent, but it turns out to be so much more.
Even for those who may not follow or care about the game of basketball, this sport-infused story should capture people’s hearts inside and outside the game. Stanley Sugarman (Adam Sandler) is a long-time and successful international scout for the 76ers.
He feels the time has come to a conclusion for his career until he is allowed to be the assistant coach by the team’s owner and close friend, Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall). His dreams are dashed when his friend dies suddenly and Rex’s son, Vincent (Ben Foster), takes over and moves Stanley back to his scouting role. The promise is that he will be given the coaching position once he finds that rare talent that will be a game-changer for the scout and the team.
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Disillusioned with his career, he finds himself in Spain and happens upon a pick-up game at the local court. Here he discovers an unlikely talent named Bo Cruz (Utah Jazz’s Juancho Hernangómez) who works construction to support his daughter and mother. Stanley must work hard to convince Bo to leave behind his family for a few months to train for the upcoming NBA draft.
This is even made harder when Vincent decides that the Spanish player is too much of a risk to invest in and with no playing history, they will not support him. Since Stanley knows the talent in this young man, he has to decide if he will put his career and reputation at risk for this long-shot prospect for professional basketball.
Adam Sandler continues to be an enigma wrapped in a mystery regarding career choices. One that spans from Billy Madison to Punch Drunk Love, his filmography goes from extreme mediocrity to borderline brilliance. With each film, it is uncertain which Sandler will show up on your screen.
“Sandler unpacks the angst so many middle-aged men experience who are fearful of still chasing their dreams while showing that it is worth it to risk it all.”
Hustle taps into the passionate and talented actor that does not rely on his forgettable entourage of David Spade and Rob Schneider for gross-out gags. Instead, this capitalises on the sports fanatic who happens to be a gifted thespian when he wants to be on screen. Even though the film is meant to be about Bo Cruz, the heart of it is found in Sandler’s performance. He unpacks the angst so many middle-aged men experience who are fearful of still chasing their dreams while showing that it is worth it to risk it all.
Not only is he surrounded by some of the legends of the past and former NBA stars, but the Happy Gilmore actor has found the perfect mix of actors to make this film even richer. Queen Latifah, Ben Foster, and Heidi Gardner manage to add depth to the story while supporting the ballers-turned-actors. Juancho Hernangómez does an outstanding job in carrying the load as an unknown talent and potential NBA star, even though he is a well-known on-court talent.
Hustle is an exceptional film for basketball fans and will entertain those who know nothing of the game. A film that proves that Netflix and Adam Sandler can produce quality entertainment in amongst a bastion of mediocrity. To find a movie like this must be what Stanley Sugarman must feel like when he does discover that one prospect, it makes the job worth it.
Reel Dialogue: Sport and mankind
Many may think sports stories are a modern experience, but that is far from the truth. From the Olympics to every type of ball game, the history of mankind has gone hand in hand with celebrating people’s physical abilities on the playing field. Even though not everyone appreciates these tales of athleticism, most can still think back to games that they played or watched and how they impacted their lives.
Those surprised by the long-running tradition of sports in human history, may even be more surprised by their role in the Bible. Throughout the pages of the Bible, people can read of different individuals who celebrated or relied on their physical prowess to communicate their story. Most notably would be the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the churches influenced by the various games that occurred within their communities. Take some time to read through the writings of Paul and it is like experiencing the sporting community within the Bible.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
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About the author: Russ Matthews is a film critic at City Bible Forum and Reel Dialogue. He has a passion for film and sparking spiritual conversations.