From a structural analysis and at first glance, “Hustle” seems like another one of those sports dramas Hollywood loves to repeat over and over again. It’s bareboned structure and formulaic plot is definitely a drag but there’s two select things here in the flicks most sports dramas don’t have and very few others actually possess.
Passion and Charm.
It is such a charming movie that tells it's story with plenty of warmth and a clear love and passion for the sport with satisfying nuance and restraint. The characters they have are either likable or relatable, it’s comedic bits actually got a few chuckles out of me, the pacing strikes a fine-balance between fast paced optimism and slow-paced bitterness, music is standard enough for the genre presented and on a technical standpoint, the film is highly energetic with its cinematic framing, fascinating edits and thematic production design.
Both this movie and Uncut Gems portrait Adam Sandler as a real dude with depth, humility and vulnerability and other first time actors attached here delivered performances with a surprising amount of range, Juancho Hernangomez. It’s really the central relationship between those two that serves as the main crutch for this film.
The direction comes off more like an inverse version of Rocky if it was told from Coach Mickey Goldmill’s perspective and this sensitive ambience that engulfs the atmosphere of every scene feels indicative to the inspirations behind this story despite the familiar set-up and setting. Also, the writing passes around a lot of sports movie cliches but it does so lightly and without any momentary lulls that the rest of the film unfortunately carry a lot of, stiffening dialogue aside.
On one hand, Hustle never lets reality escape from what challenges lie in their way and gives a fair insight to what our athletes have to endure just to try and get their name on a jersey. But unlike The Way Back, the writers tend to play it safe with how they go about their trials and tribulations and that’s ultimately the biggest problem here: the structure of the film solely relies on the performances, meaning the story suffers as a result. Tropes are obvious, you know how it’s going to play out, there’s another liar revealed thread involved, you get where I’m going with this.
As a tribute to basketball, I’d say it’s a four pointer but hey, it’s in the game. As a feel-good movie about pursuing your dreams if you’re passionate enough, there’s a million other fish in the sea but this one isn’t half bad.