One Movie, Two Takes: Hustle

This film is shepherded towards two audiences. The first is the NBA aficionado. The fact that two-time champion Kenny Smith, who played for the Houston Rockets, the Orlando Magic and The Sacramento Kings, among others, for 10 years — and is one of the most important sports commentators on Inside the NBA — is the one cast for the character of Leon Rich is a big treat for me. 

To those who have no idea what I am going on about, you are in the second audience. This story of redemption and second chances still pulls at your heartstrings like Jimmy Dludlu’s guitar. 

Similar to my feelings for Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, I am starting to venerate Adam Sandler more for his dramatic roles (Uncut Gems and Reign Over Me) than what he is widely known for: slapsticks with tasteless models, manoeuvring for plot. 

Exhausted and jet-lagged Philadelphia 76ers talent scout Stanley Sugerman (Sandler) has been offered his dream job of being an assistant coach, only for it to be taken away from him within a few months. Frustrated with his paucity of options, he finds himself in Spain discovering a rare talent in Bo Cruz (Utah Jazz player Juancho Hernangómez), who is killing everyone on the court in worn-out Timberland boots. 

The washed-out Sugerman takes a risk and invests himself, and the little money he has, by flying Bo over to the US and coaching his new protégé. He finds himself with his back against the wall when the new leader of the 76ers doesn’t see the magic in the young Spaniard and leaves Sugerman stuck with the bill.

This brings the story to the only weakness of the film. The script is predictable. It is Rocky (all five of them plus the two Creeds) and Karate Kid and every other motivational sports film you’ve ever seen rolled into one: the long training session montage, the discovery of a tarnished past and a make-it-by-any-means-necessary third act. 

This does not take away from this film’s well-paced charm and heart. The combination of first-time performances (Hernangómez, Smith and half of the NBA) balanced with Hollywood’s star power (such as Queen Latifah, who plays Sandler’s wife, and Robert Duvall) makes this running-up-the-stairs-to-your-future story worth your time. 

Having Lebron James as a producer helps the film’s consistent authenticity from the beginning to the end. You could be a student, a chef, a beat maker or a pastor in training, and you can relate to the hustle of negotiating every step that leads you to your destiny. — Kabomo 

Adam Sandler, is two for two with his latest movie — it’s a hit with critics and audiences. Much like his previous film, 2019’s Uncut Gems, Sandler’s Hustle, now streaming on Netflix, has left critics praising the film’s direction and script and Sandler’s performance.

The film follows former college baller and now NBA scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, Stanley Sugerman, as he tries to prove to the team’s management that he can become the assistant coach. 

While in Europe on a mission to find the team’s next franchise player, Sugerman stumbles upon a young, insanely talented but temperamental baller, played by real-life power forward Juancho Hernangómez (in his debut role). Together they struggle to prepare him for the NBA draft and a career in the league. 

Sugerman does this while trying to balance his family life and restore his reputation in the league. The film also stars Queen Latifah, rising NBA star Anthony “Ant-Man” Edwards and features a range of cameos from other retired and active basketball players.

If Spike Lee’s 1998 He Got Game is his love letter to the sport, Hustle is Sandler’s. The only difference is that Hustle isn’t heavy on the politics of the NBA or the black experience in the US. It’s a movie about basketball made by a basketball fan.

However, while playing on different teams in their tonality, both films explore similar themes. In He Got Game, Denzel Washington’s character, a murder convict, is trying to get his freedom by convincing his estranged high-school phenomenon son Jesus (played by Ray Allen), to go to the governor’s alma mater.

In doing so, he lives vicariously through his son, seen as the second coming of Michael Jordan, to get his own redemption. In Hustle, Sugerman hopes to redeem himself for his second coming and his own redemption.

Hustle shows that Sandler, who has become known mostly for his hardly funny comedies, can act. For every critically panned film he makes, he always surprises with a dramatic gem. Movies such as 2007’s Reign Over Me, Uncut Gems, Hustle and, to an extent, 2009’s Funny People show the comedian has some dramatic chops and is able to carry a movie without resorting to crass humour.But what makes it worth a watch? Whether or not you are a fan of basketball, the strong performances from unlikely actors, its sports-like pacing as well as the great dialogue makes Hustle worth watching. Yes, it’s still early days, but it is safe to say that Hustle will join the hall of fame of the greatest sports dramas of all time. — Hlabangani Mtshali

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KABOMO
Kabomo is a writer, poet, emcee, magazine editor, singer, producer and director

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