|Hustle & Flow (2005)
Starring: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, DJ Qualls, Ludacris, Isaac Hayes
Director: Craig Brewer
Did you ever hear the one about the pimp who was going through a mid-life crisis? There’s no punch line that follows, but rather the passionate rags-to-riches tale behind writer/director Craig Brewer’s “Hustle & Flow.” The film’s got all of the necessary drugs, sex, and bling - not to mention a bass-thumping soundtrack – that you’ll find in just about every urban rap drama, but what separates “Hustle & Flow” from the pack is its candid display of the film’s characters. Whether it’s the warm emotional ties of a friendship, or the harsh dilemmas of everyday life, Brewer isn’t afraid of exposing his character’s flaws, nor is he modest about exploiting their strengths.
This is especially true for DJay (Terrence Howard, “Crash”), a two-bit pimp who spends his days tricking girls out the back of his Caddy, his nights selling weed, and any spare time spouting out philosophical strategies on life. After buying a little keyboard from a homeless man that triggers childhood memories of jamming freestyle, DJay partners up with Key (Anthony Anderson), an old school buddy who produces church music, to record a demo tape reflecting his lyrical struggles on the street. Key enlists in the help of Shelby (DJ Qualls in the typecast dork role), a church piano player with a talent for rhythm, to help with DJay’s sound, and before long, the trio is mixing a worthy demo in a small, Styrofoam cup covered room of the former pimp’s house.
When news hits Memphis that neighborhood-local-turned-rap-star Skinny Black (Ludacris) is returning to his hometown for the Fourth of July, DJay takes advantage with the hopes of slipping Skinny his demo and becoming an instant star. Along for the ride are two of DJay’s girls, the pregnant Shug (Taraji P. Henson) and the freckled-faced runaway Nola (Taryn Manning), both of which would rather be doing anything other than tricking, but they just don’t know what. Though that doesn’t stop Nola from doing whatever, and whoever, it takes to earn the cash they need for the studio equipment, and because of her efforts, she’s jokingly named as DJay’s primary investor.
What’s great about the nature of the film is that it’s appealing to virtually any audience, hip hop fan or not. This is the same story we’ve seen time and time again, but Brewer recognizes this and is still able to make the experience seem unique. The music scenes are by far the most enthralling aspect of the film, and the audience becomes so mesmerized by the raw process of cutting the demo that it makes you want to get up out of your seat and jam along.
Howard is near flawless as the many-sided DJay, and it’s clear that he is one of the most talented up-and-coming actors of the generation. Equally incredible is the small supporting performance by Henson. She doesn’t have much to do throughout the length of the film, but the single reaction on Shug’s face after she hears her own voice singing the hook on DJay’s track is priceless. “Hustle & Flow” has plenty of heart, so it’s no real surprise that it cruised out of Sundance teeming with critical buzz, and while it may not win any awards by year’s end, it represents a great trip to the movies and an addictive tune that may well stay in your head for the entire weekend.
The widescreen DVD release of “Hustle & Flow” has far more special features than I would have imagined for an independent film of this caliber, but it acts as excellent supplemental material to the movie. Along with a feature commentary by writer/director Craig Brewer, the single-disc release also includes three production featurettes, six promotional spots, and highlights from the Memphis hometown premiere. The commentary track includes great insight from Brewer that you won’t find anywhere else on the disc, but the featurettes are by far the most interesting of the bunch.
The 26-minute making-of documentary (“Behind the Hustle”) and “By Any Means Necessary,” an inside look at getting the film from script to Sundance, could have easily been combined into one longer special feature, while “Creatin’ Crunk” is a noteworthy music featurette that covers how the filmmakers created the specific sound of the movie. And now that the film has garnered the attention of mainstream audiences with a handful of award nominations, “Hustle & Flow” should quickly rise to the top as one of the first DVDs most moviegoers buy all year.