Adam Sandler was once a warning story about what flow could become. And its early release for Netflix-marked by unobservable disasters like The Ridiculous 6, The Do-Over, Sandy Wexler – rightly predicted the future of the streamer, which would go on to be defined by McDonald’s-style approach to film production. But in true Sandler fashion, he also maintained (almost) an equally steady stream of critically acclaimed gems. Call it his side frustration, if you will.
An early adopter of internet entertainment — Sandler was one of the first major Hollywood stars to make the transition to streaming, realizing that his audience would prefer to watch his fart-heavy movies at home. The actor has long been associated with bottom of the barrel “comedies” which are often harder to sit through than instructional videos on the internal mechanics of conveyor belts. The overwhelming sense was that Sandler’s entire comedy filmography – all three decades of it – was an elaborate practical joke designed to expose the film industry’s hunger for success, the audience’s appetite for rubbish, and how easily both could be exploited.
He would, however, amaze people with his dramatic range from time to time in films like Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me, and quite ironically, Funny People. His latest in a new wave of serious cinema, following The Meyerowitz Stories and Uncut Gems, is the aptly titled Hustle, a Netflix sports drama in which Sandler proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only is he one of the most talented American leaders of the latter. two decades — comedic or otherwise — but that he’s probably one of the most accomplished flimflammers the film business has ever seen. All those Happy Madison comedies were certainly an ironic ruse, weren’t they?
In Hustle, he stars as Stanley Sugerman, a legendary fictional basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers who spent his daughter’s last nine birthdays on the road, living out of five-star hotels and keeping the fast food restaurant alive. But having reached the end of his string, and with ambitions of transition to a career in coaching, he wants to get out. His new boss, played by the ever-reliable Ben Foster in a particularly landscape match performance, has other plans. He sends Stanley out on a final mission to identify and recruit the next big star of the game, or lose his job.
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In a way, Stanley is very similar to the High Lamas, who set out through Tibet to find the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. There’s definitely a spiritual side to Stanley’s one-minded devotion to the issue, even if the actual process of finding the next big thing in basketball is dominated by a mentally ill effort. His desperate search leads him to Spain, where he spots an unfortunate street soccer player named Bo Cruz, played by real-life NBA athlete Juancho Hernangómez. Bo lives with his mother and young daughter, is a construction worker by day, and pushes parvenu for easy cash on the basketball courts at night. This is as much Bo’s escape story as it is Stanley’s hero’s journey.
Hustle hits all the notes you’d expect, but it’s more unconventional in its approach to sports movie stereotypes than it should have been. Certainly, there are endless training mounts and intense confrontations; there’s even an Adonis Creed-like “villain” who plants himself like a human hurdle on Bo’s path with robotic reliability. But director Jeremiah Zagar’s fluid camera work and strong tone control — this is, above all, a chic pastime — keep things moving fast, carefully putting conflict where it is needed, and culminating in the psychological slam dunk, which is only emotional. help can bring. As solid as the film is, however, it can’t resist the temptation of some loose fish-out-of-water humor at Bo’s expense (though ironically, it’s Bo who burns a hole in Stanley’s pocket with his uncontrolled spending on room service .).
In addition to the two of them, the film by Will Fetters and Taylor Materne paints the accompanying characters throughout. You always know who a friend is and who has it for Stanley and his protégé. Foster’s only task, for example, is to make fun of Bo every 10 seconds. And the actor knows exactly the kind of action he is demanding, milking it as if he is looking at a cancellation straight in the face.
Speaking of great acting, Sandler is pretty delicate here. Notice his wordless performance in a pivotal early scene when he hears of the death of a mentor figure. Zagar holds Sandler’s face as realization strikes, and then turns to disbelief, and then pure sorrow. It’s a real showcase for his talents, and our half-yearly reminder that this is the kind of creative energy that Sandler really should be spending.
Director – Jeremiah Zagar
Cast – Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangómez, Ben Foster, Queen Latifah, Robert Duvall
Evaluation – 4/5