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HUSTLE & FLOW (R) (2005)

Paramount Classics

Official Site

Director: Craig Brewer

Producers: Craig Brewer, John Singleton, Stephanie Allain

Written by: Craig Brewer

Cast: Terrence Dashon Howard, DJ Qualls, Ludacris, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, Elise Neal, Isaac Hayes, Paula Jai Parker


I so did not want to watch this movie. Pimp wants to be rapper? Puhlease. Even though I was favorably inclined toward lead actor Terrence Howard, whose sleek tomcat was the best thing about The Best Man (1999), and whose recent turn in Crash (also with Luda) was equally impressive, I just couldn’t see myself having fun. I was also leary because of all the Sundance hype on this film. But, dutifully, I attended a press screening one morning with my daughter.

I’d say it took us about, oh, three minutes to come to Jesus.

The wacky-serious opening monologue manages to avoid post-Tarantino philosophy wanking while suggesting that one should perhaps check one’s self for the stereotypes harbored about street-life folk. I think what sold us, though, was one fantastic shot during the opening credits: a freeze-frame of long hair blowing out the side window of a land yacht, with the movie title in a big, bold, yellow, ’70s font. Okay, we were on board, and ready for the ride. By the middle of the movie, we were so into it that when technical difficulties repeatedly halted the film, we were like, “C’mon, man!” We took the opportunity to see the movie again in a recent film society screening.

Terrence Howard plays the hell out of DJay, a Memphis pimp and small-time dealer who can’t believe that his future holds nothing more than his present—hustling ho’s out of a raggedy-ass car and selling trashy weed on the cheap. A couple of chance encounters later, and he’s pondering a career change—from hustler to rapper. Fortunately for DJay, he’s not the only person in town who wants something more, and he’s able to light the spark for other people who’ve been looking for a star to hitch their wagons to. The rest of the movie is basically DJay’s pursuit of his dream, how far he’ll go to realize it, and how that affects the people around him: Some of them discover new purpose in their lives; some of them get used like Kleenex. All of the characters had some interesting facet to them. The underpinning of the movie is how much every character wants desperately to be a part of something, wants to Make Something. (You can’t help feeling that Hustle & Flow is at least partly reflective of writer-director Brewer’s struggle to make films on the cheap.) Brewer’s female characters aren’t as well fleshed out as the men, and they’re also all written to highlight some defining personality trait—the angry one (Parker), the sweet one (Henson), the seeker (Manning), the seditty one (Neal)—but there’s enough there to recognize and feel for each of them. Brewer does a great job of letting us know his tired, run-to-seed Memphis—a Memphis of shotgun houses, weekend barbecues, and juke joints. This must be the sweatiest movie since Spartacus.

Now I know there’ll be folks all exercised about a black man yet again playing a hoodlum and crook. Fair enough, but remember *sigh* it’s a mark of the persistence of the problem that a white guy like Kevin Spacey can play a fucking serial killer but a black man can’t play a flesh peddler without eliciting comment.

I know Hustle & Flow may be a tough sell for certain demographics—and you know who you are. I’ve had easily five people say to me in the last couple of weeks, “Oh I love music! I listen everything! … Except rap.” Nevertheless, I urge you—see Hustle & Flow. If I’d let my general antipathy for country music keep me from seeing Coal Miner’s Daughter, I would’ve missed a very good movie… and incidentally not become a Lo-retta Lynn fan. Now I’m not saying you’ll see this movie and just dive head-first into rap music. But you may find yourself surprisingly interested in the crunk soundtrack, and you will have had a wonderful, adult moviegoing experience. So yeah, pimp-wants-to-be-rapper equals a fine movie. Still not persuaded? Ask yourself this: Did I roll my eyes at that little Irish film about working-class kids who wanted to rise up off the streets and become soul singers (The Commitments)?

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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