Redemption Road – Hustle (2022)

I have been on the fence about the majority of Netflix “originals” to this point and I will probably still maintain some of that skepticism moving forward. However, after Uncut Gems, I was more interested in seeing another dramatic role from Adam Sandler and his love for basketball seems to be driving that. Hustle follows in the footsteps of many sports dramas, but it still executes its story notes very well and showcases its sport (basketball) on film in a way that exceeds the vast majority of its contemporaries.

Adam Sandler and Juancho Hernangómez

An NBA scout is forced back out on the road in order to find the kind of generational talent that will make the difference for his bosses at the Philadelphia 76ers and get him off the road permanently.

Adam Sandler may not be the first name to come to mind when looking to cast for dramatic leads, but he has shown that he’s a very good dramatic actor under the right circumstances. This isn’t as flamboyant as his character from Uncut Gems but he blends the real-life drama of the character with the familiar humor that we all know, making for a grounded and relatable character.

The film highlights Sandler’s love for Philadelphia basketball and being involved on the production side of things as he executive produced the movie that also was a joint collaboration that involved his production studio, Happy Madison Productions. LeBron James was also involved as a producer and the genuine love of the game that’s displayed here trickled down, resulting in a ton of cameos from real NBA players and media personalities. That aspect cultivated a great deal of authenticity when it came to the basketball parts of the movie.

Jeremiah Zagar followed some of the blueprints laid before him but was wise to invest in a different tone and visual approach. He understood the long lineage of basketball films lacked something and invested in Zak Mulligan’s cinematography. It shouldn’t be understated because he put the skill, speed, and intensity of the game at the forefront of all those sequences…and there are a lot of them. We have all seen other basketball movies, many of them essentially use the game as a prop to tell the rest of the story and are edited together in post-production to highlight the ball going through the hoop. Good, actual basketball is only implied. One of the things I enjoyed most about this film was the emphasis on real basketball. Mulligan put wide and medium shots to great use and the result is that the audience gets to see real athleticism, actual skill, and authentic hoops.

Juancho Hernangómez (left) and Anthony Edwards (right)

This movie could have been made without casting NBA player Juancho Hernangómez as Bo Cruz, but that authenticity would have been lost. I don’t follow the NBA closely enough to have recognized him on sight, but watching the movie told me that the guy could really hoop and made me want to learn more about him. This was the acting debut for Hernangómez who was a first-round pick by the Denver Nuggets in 2016 and he handled it well. The only point of comparison I can make is probably Ray Allen in He Got Game and, even though I’ve got love for Allen and that film, Juancho did a better job than Ray.

Ben Foster with Kenny “The Jet” Smith as Leon

Ben Foster remains one of my favorite underrated actors and he plays a great, smug antagonist here as the son of the 76ers owner. Envious of his dad’s relationship with Sandler’s Stanley Sugerman character, Foster’s Vince Merrick takes out all those daddy issues on Stanley. It’s a small supporting role, but he plays it exceedingly well. It had been a while since I had seen Queen Latifah but this was a great role for her to remind me of all the reasons I liked her when I was a hardcore Living Single fan.

I had heard really good things about this film before I sat down with it, but it was actually my girlfriend who expressed interest in it and we both really enjoyed it.

Recommendation: If you like sports dramas, this is a solid one (especially for basketball and NBA fans) and it adds another strong dramatic performance to Adam Sandler’s resume that’s worth checking out. It also offers an interesting look at what the future of Netflix original movies could offer.

Thanks for reading! I still believe word of mouth is the best way to help, so if you enjoy what I’m doing, please tell somebody. And if you have a comment, I’d love to hear it! Liking, subscribing, and sharing go a long way too. As usual, be well, be safe, and have fun no matter how you get your movies!