Hustle  Netflix Review: A Winning Underdog Story Elevated by Adam Sandler’s Charming Central Play
Yes, we all know that Bo will play in the NBA and be a success. Yes, we all know Stanley will become an assistant coach and live out his dream. But does that stop us from watching Netflix’s new film ‘Hustle’ and getting teary-eyed? I don’t think so. After watching the horribleness of ‘Interceptor’ – which still hasn’t completely washed off yet – this beautiful story is a respite. ‘Hustle’ is as much about basketball as it is about the strength of one’s character and resilience to continue their dreams. Sandler plays Stanley, the chief scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, who wants to become a coach for the team. Rex Merrick, the well-respected owner of the 76ers, approves of the same, while his son Vincent doesn’t. But Stan’s happiness is short-lived as he gets the shock by Rex’s death.
As expected, Vince orders him back to the field, saying that he needs to provide at least one more player before he can become a coach. Stan’s find is Bo Cruz, an unknown hooper from the streets of Spain. His violent past and short temper prove detrimental to his chances. But Stan believes in him and gives him a chance. At the outset, it must be noted that ‘Hustle’ provides no new innovations in the plot. It is typical in the way it unfurls, with all the moves being reasonably foreseeable. But the attempts here, like Stan’s, are earnest. The cast is predominantly made up of yesteryear basketball stars, thereby making ‘Hustle’ a homage to their legacy.
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But the movie is not just about the sport. It also touches upon various aspects of the industry as a whole. There are marked observations about the business aspects of the industry; the politics that can sometimes be a little too dirty; and the hostile attitude towards outsiders. Director Jeremiah Zagar is not too concerned to get the underpinnings of the technicalities right. His narrative does not have machine-like precision or exactness. At times, his grip seemed to be loosening. It was evident that he was a bit short of ideas. But, the truth of the matter is that these imperfections along the way make the movie truly appealing and amenable. The texturing of the entire fabric of themes benefits greatly from the inherent sentimentality and populism of the story. To overwhelm a viewer, you need to see vulnerability on screen. Without showing that side, even the fiercest displays of toughness in the world will be hard to sell. This is where ‘Hustle’ shines the brightest. It provides you with just enough emotion to sail through.
And it is, for this reason, I feel ‘Hustle’ is not comparable with a film like ‘Moneyball’. It has a life of its own, however derivative in concept. The breathing cinematic universe is full of life and probes the human angle as much as it does the sport’s. We see Bo and Stanley struggling with their insecurities and incomplete ambitions in life. Lines like “Guys in their fifties don’t have dreams, T. They have eczema and nightmares” equalize the playground. It elevates them to a place where we as audiences and similar experiences in life can relate with them. Even their own relationship is built more on the ‘father-son’ tangent than a player-coach one. The “oak tree” tattoo that Bo gets, in the end, is to commemorate the sacrifice of Stanley. He dedicates a part of his life – of himself – to help a kid reach his full potential.
Sandler himself is an ardent follower of the sport. He famously took to the court in the comedy ‘Grown-Ups’ and its followups. It is no wonder then how easily he fits into the scheme of things. His commands and body language are seamless. His acerbic basketball wisdom flows like chocolate lava in the Burger King delicacy. There is no appearance of any forceful impressions. His well-rounded act also takes care of the interactions he has with the other players. He truly acts like he belongs. I would go so far as to say that Sandler is the modern-day Robin Williams. He has the same warmth, charm, and versatility as the great American actor. It is a big statement but high time that the discussion is spilled into action.
‘Hustle’ is an important breather from Netflix’s horrendous run of recent films. Adam Sandler’s charming central act and the umpteen basketball stars on display fit in smoothly with the winning story of an underdog we haven’t been able to resist for decades. Be ready to be sucked into rooting for Bo “the Cruz Missile” and Stan “the double deuce” every step of the way.