I've found that recently, Netflix originals have been pretty low quality (at least what I've watched and reviewed here). To add to that, I haven't really given Adam Sandler a very fair chance for some kind of personal comeback (and yes, I do still need to see 'Uncut Gems'), as I've found, for the most part, things have gotten pretty stale for the guy. But, quite honestly, I'm happy to say that I stand corrected on Sandler's quality (and not for the first time) as I keep forgetting that the dude CAN act and can act very well.
'Hustle' here provides its audience with another role from Sandler that ends up delivering the best of everything he has. He's good at comedy (obviously), but he's also very good at showing intensity along with deeper emotions, and it all sort of shines through here. In some ways, the film provides a big breath of fresh air because nothing about what's on its surface is very typical. It's not your average Adam Sandler movie, but not your average sports movie, either. Yet at the same time, it did make me think that it's been quite a while since I've sat and watched a good sports movie that I really liked.
This story centers on the Philadelphia 76ers international scout, Stanley Sugarman (Sandler). He's liked by team owner, Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall), largely based on his "never-back-down" attitude. However, he butts heads with Rex's son, Vincent (Ben Foster). This all sort of comes to a head after the sudden passing of Rex, leaving Vincent in charge of the team, and therefore Stanley's new boss. Despite Stanley's being away from his wife, Teresa (Queen Latifah) and daughter, Alex (Jordan Hull) along with a recent promotion to assistant coach, all that pretty much becomes null and void when Vincent basically demands Stanley to find the 76ers next star player.
It's not long before Stanley is sent overseas where he meets up with his former college teammate, Leon Rich (Kenny Smith) who tries to convince him to leave the 76ers and become a player agent. He also soon meets the likes of an incredible young player named Bo Cruz (Juancho Hernangomez - now one of our own Toronto Raptors). Bringing Cruz to Vincent's attention, however, doesn't go well, and to make a long story short, it's not long before Stanley starts to consider Leon's advice and take this new talent under his wing, himself. As long as he can keep him out of any sort of trouble, and train him right.
As the film unfolds, it does a good job of keeping things realistic in the sense that they use a lot of real NBA talent all throughout the film as opposed to just hiring extras and slapping uniforms on them. I was further impressed with (and I do this a lot) the film's soundtrack, as it exposes the audience to a lot of great underground and off-the-radar tunes. I will say there were a few I could have done without, but it was cool to see them not just pick and choose a bunch of easy-to-grab popular music. That's the sort of thing that helps give a movie a soul of its own and helps it to stand out.
I think, quite honestly, whether you're a Sandler fan or not, whether you're even a basketball fan or not, there's still a lot to appreciate here. What stood out a lot to me was that it's inspirational, not only following Cruz's story but Stanley's as well - they both have something to prove to themselves. There's no over-the-top Sandler comedy going on here, but he'll still deliver a good line that'll give you a good laugh. You appreciate the development of each of these characters as the film goes on, and you love seeing them play off each other, largely just being a couple of "guys". I think this may have a safe spot on my list of best movies of the year. Just thank God hope hasn't become lost on these Netflix originals.
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