Film-Forward Review: [HUSTLE & FLOW]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Taryn Manning as Nola
Photo: Alan Spearman

HUSTLE & FLOW
Directed & Written by: Craig Brewer.
Produced by: Stephanie Allain & John Singleton.
Director of Photography: Amy Vincent.
Edited by: Billy Fox.
Music by: Scott Bomar.
Released by: Paramount Classics/MTV Films.
Country of Origin: USA. 114 min. Rated: R.
With: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, Isaac Hayes, DJ Qualls & Ludacris.

It ain't easy being a pimp. So we learn in writer/director Craig Brewer's electrifying film, about a Memphis pimp, DJay, who really wants to be a rapper. It's the universal theme of the bad boy trying to make good and escape from whatever it is - drugs, violence, poverty - that is holding him back. What sets this film apart, however, is clearly Terrence Howard. As DJay, he is not only sexy and magnetic - it's almost sinful how good-looking is - he infuses his role with such smoldering intensity that he is sensitive and vulnerable at one moment, and full of absolute rage the next.

Though the audience does grow to care for DJay as he starts to see his dreams of cutting a demo come to fruition, Brewer doesn't let us forget DJay is still a pimp and he'll do anything and everything necessary to protect his livelihood. Hustle & Flow also features an amazing supporting cast led by Taryn Manning (Eminem's jilted ex in 8 Mile), and includes Taraji P. Henson (a soon-to-be breakout star if there ever was one), Anthony Anderson (TV's The Shield), and rapper Ludacris.

With a heavy Southern twang, short skirt and a pair of yellow platform lace-up heels, Manning is winning as Nola, DJay's white hooker and most likely his best friend, who goes from pitiful and lost to proud and determined. Likewise, as DJay's very pregnant, thus non-working hooker, Shug, Henson brings a wide-eyed innocence and humor to her role, making us see that DJay's also capable of love. Earning his own special shout-out is pencil-thin actor DJ Qualls as a white music producer with an ear for hip-hop beats and a taste for weed.

The soundtrack pumps with ferocious crunk beats and raunchy rhymes, some of which are performed on screen with impressive skill by Howard - he even raps! Shot like a 70s blaxploitation flick loaded with profane language, Hustle & Flow culminates in a way that is unexpected, but satisfying all the same. Produced by John Singleton (whose distinguishing touches like low-rider cars and sudden explosions of violence are evident throughout), the movie feels raw and real; it definitely has soul. Tanya Chesterfield
July 23, 2005

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