Hustle and Flow
February 27, 2006
Hustle and Flow (2005) was the toast of last year’s Sundance Film Festival and helped launch Terrence Howard’s career into the mainstream (along with his appearances in Crash and Four Brothers). This small, independent film got so much buzz that MTV/Paramount picked it up for distribution. Writer/director Craig Brewer has created a powerful, character-driven film that has a personally crafted feel to it.
DJay (Howard) is a small-time pimp who dreams of being a big time rapper. When he’s not pimping out Nola (Manning), he’s taking care of pregnant Shug (Henson). When he hears that local rapper turned top-selling recording artist Skinny Black (Ludacris) is going to be in town on the fourth of July, DJay decides to record a demo with the help of his old school friend Key (Anderson) and try to better his life and those of his loved ones.
Terrence Howard shows an impressive range with this role. He has the street smart pimp swagger down cold but also demonstrates a sensitive side as well, like when he calms down one of his hooker’s crying baby by playing a simple tune on an electronic keyboard. There’s another scene where DJay sits in on Key recording a lady’s stirring rendition of a gospel song and is moved to tears. Howard plays it subtly, no grandstanding or overdoing it, just getting caught up in the emotion of the scene as are we. He has very expressive eyes and a way of carrying himself that is reminiscent of Benicio Del Toro. The film doesn’t romanticize DJay and shows a darker side, like when he finally gets tired of one his hooker’s complaining and kicks her and her baby out of his house. Howard lives and breathes this role. He becomes the character with absolute conviction, demonstrating a lot of heart in a truly inspired performance.
For once, Anthony Anderson is cast against type and drops his funnyman shtick for a solid supporting turn as the guy who helps DJay get his shot. Key’s got a respectable job and is married which clashes with his old friend’s lifestyle. DJay’s talent for hard-hitting rhymes and catchy beats inspires Key and he provides arrangements that complement the pimp’s songs.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the scene where DJay, Key and Chris (Qualls), the accompanying keyboardist, assemble and rehearse his first song with fat beats, infectious hooks and raw lyrics. We become drawn to their dreams of making a record and the creative process of achieving this goal. There’s a raw intensity to the performances that feels authentic.
Howard’s passionate performance lies at the heart of Hustle and Flow. He plays a guy who makes music because it is coming out of him and he genuinely believes he can improve his lot in life. It is this conviction that gets us emotionally invested in DJay’s story so that we care about what happens to him. Brewer complements the performances with the best kind of organic direction. Each character is well-written and given a moment that sheds some light on what motivates them and what drives them to do what they do.
There is an audio commentary by writer/director Craig Brewer. He began with several of DJay’s monologues and slowly a script began to take shape. Brewer also tells the story about the inspiration for the movie and in particular the characters of DJay and Nora. He also points out the Memphis-specific slang used in the movie. Brewer is well-spoken, talking constantly with a nice mix of informative and anecdotal information.
“Behind the Hustle” takes us through the filmmaking process. Initially, Howard turned down the role because he didn’t want to play another pimp role but Brewer convinced the actor that there was more to the character. Cast and crew speak passionately about the movie and the experiences working on it.
“By Any Means Necessary” examines the struggle to get the film financed because no studio would touch it, so director John Singleton stepped up and used his own money to get it made. Brewer drew a lot from his own experiences and from his family making it a very personal project.
“Creatin’ Crunk” examines the film’s score. Memphis his steeped musical history and Brewer enlisted several legendary local musicians, like Willie Hall, who worked for Stax Records back in the day.
“Memphis Hometown Premiere” features key cast members along with Brewer and Singleton meeting and greeting the press as they walk the red carpet. The mayor even declares it Hustle and Flow Day.
Finally, there are six promotional spots.