Film Reviews

HUSTLE & FLOW

By • Jul 22nd, 2005 •

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Paramount / A New Deal Entertainment presentation of a Crunk Pictures Homegrown Pictures production
No MPAA rating / Running time — 115 minutes

QUOTE: Terence Howard has the unique quality that made John Travolta a star in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. It is a pathos that cannot be faked.

In the April 2004 Playboy magazine interview with ‘thug turned hip-hop superstar’ 50 Cent, he was asked about his initial signing with Columbia. 50 Cent’s answer says a lot about the entering the cold, hard music business.

50 CENT: I got a $65,000 advance; $50,000 went to Jam Master Jay, and $10,000 went to the attorney to negotiate my contractual release from Jay and do my contract with Columbia. I had only $5,000 left. I had to be able to provide for myself, so I took the $5,000 and turned it into 250 grams.
PLAYBOY: You went back to dealing.
50 CENT: I had no choice.
PLAYBOY: Do you think Jam Master Jay ripped you off?
50 CENT: He didn’t. He took what he felt was his. I was never bitter at Jay, because what I learned from him is what allows me now to sell 10 million records. He groomed me. That’s worth $50,000.

Every time I watch MTV’s Cribs, I wonder how much stuff the producers bring in to fill up the artist’s house and stock the garage with product-placement cars. How come everybody has huge flat-screen TVs in every room and up-to-the-minute toys? Are these people owners, or are they renting from their music companies? Most of these houses don’t look lived in to me.

HUSTLE & FLOW will be just too gritty and non-self-affirming for most folks: it’s about a black South Memphis pimp, Djay (Terence Howard), his $20 ho Nola (Taryn Manning), and his dream. Djay does give Nola her due. She is his main financial backer in his quest to become a rap star. But should we cheer her on? When Djay runs into a friend from high school, Key (Anthony Anderson), he decides this chance meeting will bring about his longed for music career. Key is a sound engineer and agrees to ?produce? Djay. He brings in an associate from his church, a white kid named Shelby (DJ Qualls). They sound proof Djay’s bedroom with egg cartons.

After praising DJ Qualls in ROAD TRIP, DJ wrote me the sweetest email. (DJ, I’m still a big fan! Why aren’t your people teaming you up with big brother Owen Wilson?)

Djay records a demo tape and sets about, whilst still pimping Nola in his non-air-conditioned dump of a car, trying to connect with the only person he remotely knows, the famous rapper Skinny Black (Ludacris), who has returned to his hometown for a Fourth of July party. Djay has everything going against him. He doesn’t even have a CD but he does have a great song, ‘Whoop Dat Trick.’ We see the process of creating the song, the pot dealing, and Djay’s caring for his pregnant ho/girlfriend Shug (Taraji P. Henson), his angry top earner Lexus (Paula Jai Parker) and the ever patient, accommodating Nola.

The ROCKY moment comes when Djay is introduced to Skinny Black and attempts to engage him. Since this is about a pimp and his lifestyle the meeting goes terribly, but stunningly, wrong. This is a fascinating twist that certainly does not promote the pimp-gangster life.

Howard is riveting and, even though you might not want to affirm the life of a pimp, brings a sense of frustration and hope to the character. Djay wants to get out of the life he is trapped in. Screenwriter/director Craig Brewer gives HUSTLE & FLOW a strong base in reality – you actually feel the Memphis heat and grimy life of these characters. Howard is sensational and deserves the praise he has been getting. He has a steamy sex-appeal and a sense of hard-won humanity that makes Djay likeable. In fact, you can’t take your eyes off Howard. Brewer also gets strong performances out of Manning and Ludacris. I recommend HUSTLE & FLOW while commending prostitution as an art form, business venture, or avenue into the music industry.


Cast:
Djay: Terrence Howard
Key: Anthony Anderson
Nola: Taryn Manning
Shug: Taraji P. Henson
Lexus: Paula Jai Parker
Yvette: Elise Neal
Arnel: Isaac Hayes
Shelby: DJ Qualls
Skinny Black: Ludacris

Credits:
Producers: John Singleton, Stephanie Allain
Screenwriter/director: Craig Brewer
Executive producer: Dwight Williams
Associate producer: Preston Holmes
Director of photography: Amelia Vincent
Production designer: Keith Brian Burns
Editor: Billy Fox
Music: Scott Bomar
Music supervisor: Paul Stewart
Costume designer: Paul Simmons
Casting: Kimberly R. Hardin
Sound mixer: Andy Black

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