Hustle & Flow
The exquisite Hustle & Flow, about a hustler who wants out of his meager existence through the fast-paced world of hip-hop, will not only ''crunk'' you up--it'll stir your soul. Let's all holler, ''Whoop that trick!''
Ideas simply flow around DJay (Terrence Howard), a philosopher of sorts who waxes prophetic to whomever will listen. But this Socrates isn't from the hoity-toity world of togas, Grecian gods and flowing wine. No, DJay is a shrewd pimp from the sweat-drenched, southern streets of Memphis. Living on the fringe of society, he hustles his women from his car and wonders, often out loud, what happened to all the big dreams he had of making in the music business. But when he runs into an old friend, Key (Anthony Anderson), a sound engineer with similar aspirations, a light bulb goes on. DJay starts to write down his freestyle raps and teams up with Key and Shelby (D.J. Qualls), a church musician with a beat machine, to lay down bass-thumping crunk tracks full of heart and soul. Suddenly, DJay's whole attitude changes, much to the surprise of the women in his life, including Shug (Taraji P. Henson) and Nola (Taryn Manning). So much so that they, too, get caught up in DJay's flow and set out to help him. DJay knows it's now or never. He knows he's gonna have to hustle like he's never hustled before if he's ever going to break out and live his dream.
Terrence Howard is one of those quintessential character actors whose name you can never remember but whose enigmatic and superb performances--as well as his pair of mesmerizing eyes--you can never forget. He's played a fellow pushed to the edge in Crash, a smooth jazz player in Ray, and even a biker boy in Biker Boyz. Now it's his turn to be in the limelight. He is simply astounding in Hustle & Flow, playing the sometimes dangerous, sometimes kind DJay as a guy on the edge--whatever that edge may be, fame or disaster. Whether he wants it or not, this is going to put Howard on the map toward movie--and possible Oscar--stardom. Of course, Howard is also assisted by a superlative supporting cast. In the women's corner, Manning (8 Mile), as DJay's top earner Nola, and Henson (Baby Boy), as his former ''go-to'' girl sidelined with a pregnancy, turn in performances of a lifetime. Henson's especially exceptional: her innately sweet and giving nature influences DJay in ways he never imagined. Anthony Anderson, who has been scoring major points for his malevolent turn on TV's The Shield, continues his dramatic break from inane comedies (thank GOD!) as Key, the voice of reason in DJay's wild world. Also holding his own is Qualls (Road Trip), the ''skinny, white boy'' who still knows a thing or two about crunk. And once again, rapper-turned-actor Ludacris makes a memorable cameo appearance as a former Memphis boy who makes it big in the hip-hop world, only to turn his back on the ones who helped him get there. Kudos all around.
Like many well-made independent films before it, Hustle & Flow is a testament to passion--a fervent vision from a filmmaker who has not only lived the life he's so lovingly recreating but who also wholly believes in its virtues. First-time writer-director Craig Brewer, who hails from the same Memphis streets, creates Hustle & Flow straight from his heart. Through his poignant script and unfaltering, gritty and grainy vision, Brewer gets everyone pumped up.'' This is a Memphis story--a movie about making music by any means necessary,'' Brewer explains. ''Music has been our common love and language. It's our chance to take our pain, our struggle, our tools, and put it into something that has a beat, raw and unfiltered.'' Director John Singleton was so enamored of the script's pulse, which introduces us to the world of crunk--a subdivision of southern hip-hop--that he personally financed and produced the film. Also duly impressed were the folks at the esteemed Sundance Film Festival, who handed the film its Audience Award back in February. Memphis crunk rapper Al Kapone, who provides two of DJay's most memorable tracks, ''Hustle & Flow'' and ''Whoop That Trick,'' adds, ''We've got such a deep history of music out of this city, from Stax to Elvis to rock-and-roll to the blues we always knew there was something here, but we were never able to carry the torch. We always had this energy wanting to bust out--we wanted to be heard and be recognized.'' And now it can. Hustle & Flow will crunk your world.
The undeniably superior Hustle & Flow is this year's indie darling--and if it keeps flowing until the end of the year, it should garner some Oscar attention, especially for the captivating Terrence Howard.