The latest Adam Sandler film to hit Netflix, Hustle is a solid sports picture that does well in executing genre tropes and conventions. But instead of borrowing from other basketball movies, Hustle is the spirit sibling of a soccer cult classic — 2005’s Goal!
A young Spanish-speaking man plays a sport to a high level in amateur scenarios whilst working a laborious job to help his family pay the bills and put food on the table.
A scout stumbles across a game he is playing in and pitches that he could make it professional in said sport. The Spanish-speaking man travels across the world to trial for the big leagues. All is going well but poor performance and a mix-up of multiple factors lead to the dream seemingly being over. But don’t count the scout out yet. Another trial is set up, giving the young man another chance at achieving his dreams. Cue a montage of training and game scenarios.
The Spanish-speaking man then goes on to make it, signing for a big club and living out his dream of playing sports for a living. I’m of course talking about the 2005 classic soccer film Goal! right? Wrong. This is a synopsis of Hustle, Adam Sandler’s new basketball picture on Netflix that a lot of people are shouting about.
I’m not hating on Hustle, to make it clear. I enjoyed the movie. It was a good Sandler film that wasn’t a goofy comedy co-starring Kevin James and Rob Schneider. Featuring some NBA superstar cameos, this film provides a storyline focused more on the business of basketball and what goes into young players from certain backgrounds trying to make it in the big leagues. However, when I was watching it, I could not get Goal! out of my head due to the blinding similarities between the two movies.
A Spanish-Speaking Main Character
One of the main comparisons I made was how the show stemmed from a Spanish-speaking main character’s journey in their beloved sport. “You’re reaching!” I hear you cry. Yes, maybe. Santiago Munez is a Mexican footballer living Los Angeles. Bo Cruz is from Mallorca, Spain. But the similarity here is clear — it is their Spanish links.
The Struggle of the Protagonist
A common feature for the protagonists in both films is that they have a daily grind to put food on their family’s plates and keep money coming into their homes. Cruz works in construction, providing for his mother and his young daughter. Munez is a gardener, working with his father and providing for his grandmother and brother. The common theme is the cliche of everyday people having dreams of doing what they love for a living, but not really seeing a chance to do so. The movies play on this as an emotional standpoint, giving each story an arc that triggers feelings in the viewer. You start rooting for the main character. Cheering him on. Hoping he gets his underdog fairytale.
Missed Chance, Failed Opportunity
In Hustle, Cruz comes up against some of the best NBA prospects looking to break into the league in a trial attended by a handful of scouts and NBA front offices. Munez faces a trial at one of the biggest English teams, Newcastle United.
Both are thrown in at the deep end with some great talents in their areas, and both see a disaster strike. After what seemed like a good start from Cruz, Kermit Wilts (played by Minnesota Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards, not a Muppet) gets into Cruz’s head, which leads to a poor performance. Similarly, Munez has conditions against him as he is put into a game in the pouring rain and swamp-like pitch only to drop a terrible performance apart from one moment of magic — when he flicks the ball over Hughie McGowan who later becomes, you guessed it, the Kermit Wilts heavy of this movie.
The hero’s journey isn’t complete without a redemption. Spoiler: Both Cruz and Munez eventually make it. From both failing their trials twice to playing at the top level of their sport, the redemption story is quite something.
The films also share the typical training montage leading to this redemption arc. Cruz goes on a training spree right after his first game where we see him on the court, running around the streets of Philadelphia, eating healthy food, and creating a social media frenzy due to his talent. He then manages to get himself into another crucial game, this time an official trial at the NBA Combine. The same man, Wilts, gets into his head once again and Cruz turns slightly violent, leading to him being removed and his dream seemingly over.
In Goal!, we see Munez pack his bags and get ready to return to Los Angeles after his horrendous show in the one-hour trial he had at Newcastle only for the scout, Glen Foy, to make some moves and get him an extension on his trial. Queue montage. He then embarks on this trial, coming to clashes with the antagonist; the aforementioned McGowan. McGowan smashes Munez’s inhaler before a game, leading to complications for Munez on the pitch. A problem because during his medicals, Munez never declared he was asthmatic. And his refusal to do that after this incident leads to him being let go from the reserve team of Newcastle United. A second failed trial. Familiar?
Both movies share a lot of differences, of course. It’d be somewhat suspicious if they didn’t. For example, Cruz’s criminal record holds him back in this film, whereas it is Munez’s asthma. Foy is a disgruntled former scout, unlike Sandler’s Stanley Sugarman character, who is one of the best-rated scouts in the NBA. However, the core of the movies is the same. Two young men struggling to make ends meet at their jobs, dreaming of their time to come in their beloved sport and then getting their chance, albeit with a few bumps along the road.
Sports films are often cringeworthy, focusing on the typical cliches and skimping on the actual filmmaking. These two don’t fit into that. Goal! is a cult classic, showcasing football culture well and shining a light on some important challenges. Hustle, like Goal! is a predictable film, but uses strong filmmaking alongside a great performance from Sandler to tell the story in a more hard-hitting way. Whatever your take, I’d strongly advise watching both of these movies.