Hustle & Flow (2005) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for sex and drug content, pervasive language and some violence
Running time: 116 min.

Cast: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, DJ Qualls, Ludacris, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, Isaac Hayes
Cameo: Three 6 Mafia
Director: Craig Brewer
Screenplay: Craig Brewer

Review published November 1, 2007

Terrence Howard's (Ray, Crash) Oscar-nominated performance highlights this interesting and provocative look at the life of a two-bit pimp and drug dealer who finds a calling after deciding that he has a voice that needs to get out in the world of hip hop.  Howard plays Memphis hustler, DJay, who is at a crossroads in his life in the game as he feels there just has to be something more in store for him than scraping by from day to day in the world of drugs and fornication, especially as he hits the same age that his father had been when he died.  After exchanging weed for a cheap keyboard, he finds he has an affinity for simple compositions that allow him to express himself as a poet and rapper, talking about his daily feelings and existence on the street of ghetto Tennessee.  With the help of an associate in the local gospel music scene (Anderson, Hoodwinked), DJay spends most of his free time trying to lay down the tracks for the demo he wants to send to another local who made it big in the rap game, Skinny Black (Ludacris, 2 Fast 2 Furious).  However, his women are growing tired of DJay's obsession, and other tensions threaten to stop DJay from living out his dreams before they even have a chance to begin.

Much like 8 Mile, authenticity is the key to making this ambitious film about one man's hunger to break into the world of hip hop, and though Howard is not a rapper by trade, the level of sophistication in his lyrics is such that a pimp with at least some knowledge about how to kick it on the mic about his day-to-day existence could turn out a halfway decent demo if he worked hard enough.  Perhaps as impressive as the star-making turn by Howard is the stellar debut of a new auteur in Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan), who shows he has an ear for the vernacular and the characters, and the peculiar world that they inhabit.  Though DJay doesn't exactly live an upright life from outside appearance, Brewer paints him with an honest air, not as a pure saint or a sinner -- an average guy who got caught up in the pimp game for money, but what he really wants is respect among his peers, willing to give up everything he has built for a chance at breaking through.

Although falling under the banner of MTV Studios, Hustle & Flow doesn't aim for the young set, clearly an adult film with adult aspirations, resisting the tendency to market the film and soundtrack to the teenage crowd that it might appeal most to.  It's not a surprise to see Howard giving an Oscar-caliber performance, but the supporting cast puts forward some of their best work, with a surprisingly nuanced role by the normally loudmouthed Anthony Anderson, a suitably geeky DJ Qualls (The Core, The New Guy), and even Ludacris captivates as the mercurial Skinny Black.  The women of the film are equally strong, and give the film the benefit of humanity and kindness necessary to see that these are people with hopes, dreams, and the capability of finding love and happiness even when it looks like they might never be anything more than what they are.

The characterizations lean a little toward eccentric, and some of the situations play less realistic than a true drama might warrant, but all in all, Brewer turns in an absorbing look at the small-time pimp with the dreams and determination to suggest there might just be something bigger in store for him.  Beautifully shot, with solid dialogue and delivery, Hustle & Flow proves to be worth the meager amount of money you spend for the two hour session, and unlike DJay's "merchandise", you won't feel screwed when it's over.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo