Hustle & Flow is basically 8 Mile with a southern twist. Without divulging too much, keep in mind the question at hand. Will the hard work and effort involved in laying down a rap demo pay off in the end? The prospects look grim at times and promising in other moments. Just like 8 Mile we learn of the greed of those on the inside of the music industry. The finer lesson learned is that even pimps and hoes have heart and character. With a few breaks those pimps and hoes can even be successful rappers, singers or CEOs (you’ll understand the CEO reference after seeing the film). The problem is those few breaks can often be hard to come by...if they ever come at all.
Director/Writer Craig Brewer turns an average story into quality entertainment by developing and pushing strong performances all around. The character development alone sets it aside from typical underdog cliches. And a less than predictable final few scenes keeps the viewers in suspense up to the final credits.
DJay (Terrence Howard) is a pimp in every sense of the word, but a pimp with a conscience. A brilliant mind with a raw talent to rhyme and a keen street smartness essential for survival in a rundown Memphis neighborhood. He spends day after countless day hooking his ladies out to clients and dealing drugs (weed being the primary drug of choice). Most prosperous among his tricks is Nola (Taryn Manning), a white country girl who is severely attached to DJay, yet searching for her own purpose in life. Presently DJay drives Nola around town parading her to potential customers as she hops from vehicle to vehicle. Nola lives with DJay—as does Lexus (a loudmouth stripper) and her young son. Rounding out the household is Shug (Taraji P. Henson), a pregnant woman, possibly a former prostitute herself with a connection to DJay that is left for much interpretation. Are they former lovers?
Aside from his monotonous routine, DJay has a master plan that is set into motion when a local peasant pawns an old small keyboard to DJay for next to nothing. DJay’s desire is to become a successful rapper. Fellow Memphis native Skinny Black (Ludacris) has already accomplished such a feat. And according to DJay, he and Skinny are old friends. “Hey!! Look, there’s Skinny Black,” DJay tells his ladies as he sees him on television. “Me and him are gonna be kickin’ it over at Arnel’s club on the Fourth of July (Arnel is played by Isaac Hayes).”
The next bit of luck comes when DJay comes across former schoolmate Key (Anthony Anderson). Key, a church going husband, agrees to work with DJay and even brings in fellow church sound technician and pianist Shelby (DJ Squalls). The trio sets up studio in the house with limited equipment and sound proof walls that consist of stapling drink holders to the walls as a form of poor man’s soundproof. The story between Key and his wife Yvette is a side note that is interesting in most aspects, but in a review format such as this, it would simply bore the reader. Let’s just say Yvette is not too thrilled to have her husband spending his time "in a house full of hoes.” With that in mind… I move on.
The film is one big build up to the final climax that involves DJay meeting with Big Skinny to push his demo tape. Aside from the recording of the demo, there is apt concentration on DJay’s relationship with his ladies. In many aspects the story is a traditional underdog story. A man struggles to find his niche in a world he has become accustomed to, and for which he wants more out of. He is good natured, but often makes decisions typical of a man without the right tools in life. And the performance of Terrence Howard is every bit as powerful as all the accolades he has received. Although I believe he was equally powerful (if not more so) in “Crash, " the difference here is that his character is the main man. Howard’s facial expressions and visual movements alone are solid enough to nail the performance. But there is a gleam in his eyes that shows this is one man to be reckoned with (he also nails the southern accent).
The features on the Hustle & Flow DVD are dynamite. The traditional “Commentary by Writer/Director Craig Brewer” leads things off and is followed up by four stellar short documentaries. “Behind the Hustle” may be a tad long at over 27 minutes and loses the viewers interest midway through. That, however, is possibly the lone flaw with the disc itself.
“By Any Means Necessary” is a much more manageable 13 minutes. Here Brewer discusses in detail the process of getting the film started. The shocker is that the film took just four weeks to make, yet took over four years to get permission and interest from someone to green light the project. Brewer also discusses the way the story formed in his mind and was put into a script. The coming together of the cast is outlined briefly and the short follows up with a few comments from The Sundance Film Festival.
“Creatin’ Crunk” comes next. This is also around 13 minutes and outlines the development of the music in the film. A particularly funny scene involves Brewer strumming his guitar to the lyrics of “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp.” The final short documentary is “Memphis Hometown Premiere.” It showcases the July 5, 2006 world premiere in Memphis, Tennessee in which the cast and crew is greeted by thousands of screaming fans. Very entertaining!
The only other features are six promotional spots titled, “DJay’s Front Porch,” “DJay’s Car,” “DJay/Shug in Studio,” “Buck or Crunk,” “How to Get a Name for Yourself,” and “How to Buck or Crunk.” They each run about 30 seconds.
Overall, a great buy can be had with this disc. The film itself is worth the money and a near perfect amount of special features makes it all the better. Also, I would be remis if I didn’t say that the sound quality is phenomenal.