At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Hustle “2022”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Hustle “2022”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Sports Drama/ Stars: Adam Sandler, Queen Latifah, Ben Foster, Robert Duvall, Juancho Hernangómez, Jordan Hull, Heidi Gardner, María Botto, Ainhoa Pillet, Anthony Edwards, Kenny Smith, Boban Marjanović, Trae Young, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Dirk Nowitzki, Brad Stevens, Doc Rivers, Sergio Scariolo, Jordan Clarkson, Khris Middleton, Aaron Gordon, Kyle Lowry, Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Silas Graham/Runtime: 117 minutes

If there is one thing that I have learned in now going over 28 years of life, it is that one of the genuine positives that comes with viewing sports events be it as a casual fan or as one who knows every single stat of every single player and even has a tattoo of their favorite player’s jersey number somewhere on their person is that when you stop and think about it anything truly is possible in that distinct realm. Indeed even though there has now been a vast number of years where professional athletes have engaged in a variety of sports, we as sports fans still daily hear about match-ups let alone plays which occur that either have not happened in a fairly long time or even at all. Put another way my dear reader the best thing about sports is that there is no guarantee one team will win over the other nor is there a guarantee that how you think a game will turn out is how it turns out by the time the final buzzer goes off. Indeed the San Antonio Spurs could play the Boston Celtics 50 times and the end result would be different in 50 ways through various tweaks that could occur throughout each of those 50 games. Of course whilst this distinct adrenaline rush can prove to ultimately be joyful or downright heartbreaking depending on who exactly you are rooting for one thing is definitely for sure: it will always be intriguing. With that said, the realm of cinema known as the sports film is one that can be quite intriguing albeit for an entirely different reason altogether. That being that the edge of your seat intrigue and excitement that comes from watching a live sporting event is something that sadly, more often than not, is misplaced with ease in a film helmer’s stab at trying to conjure up a structure-based narrative complete with appropriate pathos and tempo whilst the novel quality of a match-up is often traded away for something that is tragically a lot more run of the mill. Sure there are uncommon entries in this genre of movie magic that manage to shoot and score big due to making creative choices that throw the typical expectations for a serious loop. Yet for every single slice of sports cinema like that there are also at least 10-15 cinematic sports sagas of a team of amateurs or just a single underdog doing their best to beat the odds against them in order to win the day, trophy, championship, peoples’ respect, etc. by the end of the film. With that said, you should know that the slice of cinema I am reviewing today, the new sports drama Hustle, is a slice of cinema that is very much a part of the 2nd category in a lot of respects. Sure there are some novel things about this film’s narrative, but it also ultimately proves to be a lot more comfortable with engaging in beats that even a rookie to sports cinema could see coming from a mile away. Yet despite being fairly run of the mill as it is, there is also no denying that there is a wonderful amount of heart and gung-ho attitude about this slice of cinema that helps to elevate the material. It also doesn’t hurt that this slice of sports cinema is also the blessed benefactor of a performance by Adam Sandler that manages to combine both his genuine acting skill as well as his passion for the sport of basketball and as a result helps, with the aid of a talented crew and collection of wonderful co-stars, transform a film that could have been yet another easy layup into something more closely resembling a slam dunk in every sense of the word.

The plot is as follows: Hustle tells the story of a man by the name of Stanley Sugarman. Mr. Sugarman, we rather quickly learn, is a long-time scout for a little basketball team by the name of the Philadelphia 76rs, but who as our film opens is quickly reaching his wit’s end with his employer to say nothing of his current occupation. This is because even though this guy manages to possess an overwhelming amount of heart and passion for the sport of basketball, he is also a guy whose career has seen spend close to a solid decade of his life traversing the planet in an effort to locate for his team the next global superstar. An odyssey that also has had the tragic consequence of missing out on quality time with his loving wife and their daughter. Thankfully for our hero it looks like things in his life are about to get a whole lot easier when the team owner makes the decision to make him the team’s newest assistant coach. That is of course before (surprise surprise) things are thrown for a loop which results in the owner’s son Vince being left in charge of the team. This proves to be a bit problematic for our main hero since Vince has never exactly been in his court so to speak and proceeds to prove that by relegating our hero back to his position as a scout albeit with the caveat that our hero can either regain the assistant coach position by helping the team find a top-notch talent or he can be shown the door. Thus finding himself between a rock and a hard place for all intents and purposes we see our hero pack a bag once more and head out to none other than Spain. Yet it is where life throws a surprise his way when, faced with some downtime and nothing to do, we see our hero goes to check out some ball at a court near his hotel only to find himself crossing paths with a young man by the name of Bo Cruz who, despite playing games in construction attire, proves to be a phenomenal diamond in the rough-style talent so to speak. Suffice it to say it should come as no surprise to learn that our hero becomes fairly adamant about getting a professional team to sign this kid, but when his team’s new owner swiftly shoots the idea down, we see our hero make the choice to bring this kid to America and prepare him for the biggest stage of his life in the form of the NBA Draft Combine. Thus can our hero help this genuinely talented yet equally as hotheaded young man with a fair degree of baggage to his name find the skill needed to not only square off against more professional athletes, but also show an NBA team why they need to sign him like yesterday or is this one long shot that’s about to turn into a serious and horrific air ball? That I will leave for you to discover for yourself dear reader….

Now right off the bat in terms of work done behind the camera, it should be noted that the script that this slice of cinema is operating with, as penned by Will Fetters and Taylor Materne respectively, really only gives no more and no less than the run of the mill sports film odyssey for our heroes to wander down. You also should know that this slice of cinema’s story also has no qualms whatsoever about utilizing every single time-honored component of this distinct genre of movie magic that it can or already has access to in order to keep the story going. This incidentally includes everything from the training montage to a big speech about how Bo’s psychological fortitude must keep up with his already phenomenal physical fortitude. Heck this slice of cinema even manages to give Bo his very own slightly slimy nemesis in the form of a fellow player portrayed by Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves of all people to give him grief at seemingly every given opportunity. Of course as these components operate the way the film wants them to, I can safely bet that you will also find yourself very much being made aware of every single other slice of sports cinema that has used these same components. Yet it may utilize extremely fairly time-honored components, but what distinguishes this slice of sports cinema is the fact that not once does it feel run of the mill or tedious in any way. A feat that can mostly be attributed to both the wonderful collection of performers in front of the camera, but also the potent helmsmanship behind the camera respectively. Indeed film helmer Jeremiah Zagar gives us some beats on the basketball court that function in the same manner that a sports scene out of something like Miracle or Remember the Titans would and more often than not it is absolutely incredible to watch the skill that the athletes in this are able to bring to this film. A feat that, of course, is an unsurprising positive to this slice of cinema being able to actually bring on board real-life NBA players to play either themselves or fictional characters in this. Sure the work in the editing department in this proves to be a little bit too swift at times, but the work by the cinematography department manages to make up for it due to being equal parts riveting as well as innovative in regards to its delightful amount of skill at showcasing just how immensely talented these performances are from a physical point of view. Finally, it may remind you quite a bit of a lot of other cinematic bonds between a coach and their star athlete that we have witnessed over the years, but I also felt that the bond which comes to exist between our main character and Bo is also a wonderful positive in this slice of cinema’s favor. Indeed not only are they likable as individual people thus ensuring you are engaged in their own private battles in this, but together they both have wonderful degrees of both heart and passion which then in turn ensures that you are equally as interested in seeing them succeed as a dynamic duo as well.

Of course, as previously stated this slice of cinema may be run of the mill in quite a few arenas, but one arena where it ultimately distinguishes itself is in how it gives its lead actor another phenomenal dramatic part to play. Indeed I don’t know about you movie goer, but I know that for me personally I always find himself being immensely thankful when Adam Sandler makes a slice of cinema like Reign Over Me, Funny People, The Meyerowitz Stories, or especially Uncut Gems (which I still feel should have gotten him at the very least an Oscar nod). The reason for this is because not only do those kinds of films actually allow Sandler to show a surprising amount of range, but they also show off the fact that yes Sandler can engage in the juvenile shtick that made him a star on SNL and in a lot of his earlier movies (even though some of those do hold a special place in my heart and are legitimately funny), but if given the right material however this guy is actually one hell of an actor. A concept that is most definitely on display here because Sandler is absolutely fantastic in this. Indeed his portrayal of this mid-aged guy putting it all on the line in order to get one last chance to make it to the spot in life he feels he is meant to be at has its moments of comedy to be sure, but it also has a wonderful amount of heart and also integrity to it as well since Sandler, like his character, is an absolute basketball fanatic and it shows through and through. Indeed it really has been a treasure to see him become a genuinely good performer and with this slice of cinema he not only gets to show what he can do as a performer, but also manages to do a wonderfully generous job of showcasing the strengths of the cast that has been assembled around him in this from other thespians like the always welcome acting legend Robert Duvall, an understated albeit still as engaging as ever Ben Foster, and even Queen Latifah to the multitude of real-life NBA talent both past and present in this who all contribute in a wonderfully organic way to the world this slice of cinema is building for us. Suffice it to say that ultimately it is just wonderful to witness Sandler give audiences this side of who he is as a performer again like he has done a lot more often in recent years and it is my honest and heartfelt hope that he continues to do so.

All in all well I’m not gonna lie dear reader: if Adam Sandler was ever aspiring to have a slice of cinema that was his equivalent to the iconic film Rocky, I think it can be said that with Hustle he has managed to do just that. Indeed here is an underdog narrative in the world of sports that gives Sandler a chance to portray a dramatic part that, like his work in Uncut Gems from 2019, deals a lot with the idea of fixation. Yet unlike his character from Gems, this character is fixated on finding that one talent who no one has and give them a shot to be among the best of the best. Yes there is a clearly outlined inspirational vibe to this slice of cinema, but film helmer Jeremiah Zagar and a talented crew behind the scenes do phenomenal work at bringing pathos into the mix courtesy of concentrating on this cast of characters and their various issues and concerns. It also doesn’t hurt in the least though that this is one slice of cinema that has a legit love for the sport of which it revolves around. Sure it may veer towards corny and overly sentimental every now and then to say nothing of being fairly familiar in a lot of ways. At the same time, the picture is able to be as realistic as possible for the kind of film it is whilst also giving its lead performer another wonderful opportunity to show his continued growth as an actor to say nothing of his commitment here lately toward roles that are a mix of comedic, but also serious as well. Thus Hustle may be familiar in many aspects, but it is also a winning time to be had as well. Make of that what you will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Hustle “2022” a solid 4 out of 5.