Adam Sandler’s Hustle has made a strong impression since it arrived on Netflix last week. The basketball-centric drama totes strong performances from the cast, keen direction from Jeremiah Zagar and a genuine respect for the sport. So it’s no surprise that the movie has earned rave reviews from critics. Those who regularly watch sports movies more than likely noticed that this one utilizes common story beats associated with the genre (training montages, a fate final game, etc.). While those elements are more than apparent, some may not have realized that Zagar also borrowed heavily from a certain Martin Scorsese movie.
While Jeremiah Zagar tapped into some familiar (yet effective) tropes, he explained to CinemaBlend’s own ReelBlend podcast that he realized something early on. He revealed that there was no exact cinematic model for him to lean on in order to craft the kind of story he wanted to tell. He and his team did watch basketball footage but, interestingly enough, they started looking at boxing films as well. And if you know Martin Scorsese’s body of work, then you can probably guess which of his movies was instrumental in this case:
Martin Scorsese’s 1980 masterpiece tells the real-life story of Jake LaMotta, a talented boxer whose self-destructive tendencies negatively impact his professional and personal life. Robert De Niro famously played the role of LaMotta and, for his efforts, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Raging Bull is unique among sports dramas for a number of reasons, but one of them is that it’s shot in a way that really does make viewers feel like they’re in the middle of the action.
Jeremiah Zagar and DP Zack Mulligan were wise to take cues from the acclaimed biopic, and it shows in their movie. Whenever Juancho Hernangómez’s Bo Cruz is working his magic on the court, the camera gets in close on him. This is a major reason why his matchups with Anthony Edwards’ Kermit Wilts and others are so compelling to watch. (Those same camera techniques were also evident during the memorable scene that sees Cruz hooping it up in construction boots.)
Chances are that Jeremiah Zagar might seek to employ similar filming methods on his future productions, yet his next film may not necessarily have anything to do with sports. Even if that’s the case, he’d still like to cast one of the NBA stars he worked with on his latest, and it’s not Anthony Edwards.
Hopefully, the filmmaker will helm another sports film at some point down the road. I’d honestly be down for just about anything he has planned after seeing his work in Hustle, though. And if he wanted to take a few more cues from Martin Scorsese moving forward, I wouldn’t be mad at that, either.
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Erik Swann is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend. He began working with the publication in 2020 when he was hired as Weekend Editor. Today, he continues to write, edit and handle social media responsibilities over the weekend. On weekdays, he also writes TV and movie-related news and helps out with editing and social media as needed. He graduated from the University of Maryland, where he received a degree in Broadcast Journalism. After shifting into multi-platform journalism, he started working as a freelance writer and editor before joining CB. Covers superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. He eats more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.