Adam Sandler shines with an emotion-heavy performance in HUSTLE (2022)

Adam Sandler continues his slight shift into more dramatic roles with the release of Hustle on Netflix, the story of a basketball scout who puts everything into ensuring a young prospect is able to make it to the NBA.

The sport drama formula of ‘a rising star trying to make it big’ is a sub-genre that’s been explored extensively in the past, especially in the world of basketball. Most of those projects follow the same structure, and that applies to the majority of this film. Hustle hits all of the beats you expect to see, but it also has a couple of minor narrative surprises sprinkled in. The little surprises are nice to see, but they don’t do a whole lot to differentiate it from everything else. Thankfully, the story doesn’t need to make the film feel different – because Adam Sandler does exactly that.

This is without a doubt one of my favourite Adam Sandler performances due to how authentically he presents the dramatic elements, despite being known for his comedy. I could go so far as to say it may be his best performance because of how well he taps into that dramatic side to enhance the emotional impact of the narrative. It’s hard to imagine you could ever take the guy from Jack and Jill (2011) this seriously, but he proves his critics wrong. This subdued version of Adam Sandler is absolutely fantastic for a number of reasons. Despite focusing primarily on his dramatic chops, he still weaves in a few comedic lines here and there. But what’s great is that they’re not his typical silly comedic beats – rather they’re more snappy, witty lines that garner a genuine laugh (something I can’t say about many of his comedic roles). This balance is what I think peak Adam Sandler looks like, meaning I’d love to see more of these roles going forward.

His pairing with Queen Latifah is also a nice touch. They have great chemistry together, and it really feels like they’re on the same wavelength throughout the entire film. They’re both hitting that 90% dramatic and 10% comedic balance which sits perfectly with me. Now would be the perfect time to highlight Juancho Hernangomez, who plays up-and-comer Bo Cruz. The majority of the narrative hinges on Adam Sandler’s performance, but Juancho does some great stuff considering it’s his first acting gig. He brings this charm to the role that makes him very likeable and easy to root for within the narrative.

Heartfelt and heartwarming, the narrative is aptly emotional and very consistently paced, but what really enhanced the authenticity of this film is the quality of the basketball scenes. Having a professional NBA player at the helm (as well as many more in minor roles) means you don’t need ‘movie magic’ to make the training montages and game sequences look real. It may seem like a very small detail, but that small change makes a world of difference.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed everything Hustle had to offer – from the basketball sequences to the witty one-liners. The story isn’t particularly new but it’s entertaining the entire way through, successfully keeping me locked in and eager to see where it goes. It’s a well-written and well-shot film with a tonne of heart and deeply impactful emotion – all put together nicely by director Jeremiah Zagar. Adam Sandler’s performance is what sets it apart from other films like it, he hits this beautiful sweet spot of being almost entirely dramatic while still slipping in the occasional joke. Could it be a role that gets him award season buzz? Potentially, but it’s a performance that makes this film even more worth the watch!

7.9/10

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