Friday, July 22, 2005

Hustle & Flow - Movie Review

Hustle & Flow 2005

Yo dawg, what up? One of the great myths in Hollywood is the discovery of a new star. Young aspiring performer comes to town, struggles to get noticed, appears suddenly in the right place and the right time, lands the role of a lifetime, their film is a huge hit, wins the Oscar and becomes a STAR!!! Well, that doesn’t really happen. What is more typical is the case of Terrence Dashon Howard. A hard working actor for over ten years in the industry with numerous credits to his name, Terrence has currently found himself being labeled the “Breakout Star” of 2005. And in many ways he is. His performance in “Crash” was one of the better things about that homily ridden mini-opus. And now, with “Hustle & Flow” he can bask in the glory of his superlative laden reviews. And we are no exception. This movie rests squarely on the shoulders of the immensely talented Terrence Howard.

We would surely have still been impressed, if this was Mr. Howard’s debut. Comparing this performance with his work in “Crash”, makes it all the more fascinating and awe inspiring. His uptight Oreo movie director in the former, living the life of Hollywood vanity fair and facing his fears of self worth lives geographically and emotionally worlds apart from the street hustling pimp and aspiring rapper of the lead character DJay in the latter – “Hustle & Flow”. Perhaps the two share one trait in common. Their moment of self realization. But then again, we are going back to Drama 101 classes in High School. What great character in any theatrical piece does not face a moment of self realization? It is one of the cornerstones of great drama, and in “Hustle & Flow” it is the transformative power of art that hurls DJay into the struggle of his life.

Set in the sweaty underbelly of a Memphis summer, “Hustle & Flow” reveals the daily life of a pimp hustling to get by. With his three whores: One white, one black and one pregnant – so that bitch ain’t really bringing in the money, if you know what we saying. DJay solicits out of his wreck of a car, deals pot on the side, and dreams of making the big time by becoming a star rapper. His casual former acquaintance with a now successful rapper is the key to his star struck revelry. When he literally runs into a former school friend, who to his delight turns out to be a sound engineer – his dreams start to take shape. Eavesdropping at a local church, where his friend Key is recording some gospel singers – the power and beauty of watching someone else live his dream is too much for DJay. The quiet intensity and faithful emotive energy that pours out of Terrence Howard sets him apart from all his competitors. This scene is lovely, and is merely the beginning of a wonderful experience.

We were delighted by newcomer writer / director Craig Brewer’s sense of immediacy, locale, atmosphere and his delicious sense of humor. This man is also terrific in his casting and crew choices. Terrence Howard is truly a revelation in this lead role as the outwardly thuggish but emotionally poetic DJay. Anthony Anderson as Key, the wannabe record producer and DJ Qualls of the Gollum-like features as the one man band provide wonderful support – balancing the drama with some truly hysterical comic moments. But if the film belongs to Terrence Howard, then the son of a bitch betta thank his Ho’s. Taryn Manning as the nymphet Nola, whose platform shoes are larger than her body – Paula Jai Parker as the “Seen it, done him, don’t mess with me” Ho – and in particular Taraji P. Henson as Shug – the pregnant Ho who realizes thru sheer accident that her own dreams are powerful enough to transform her makeshift life are all three stand outs.

We had thought that Taryn Manning was only good for “Airport ‘75” like press junkets – who knew she could act? As the little white Ho, she proves she has genuine acting chops with her sassy attitude and iron willed reluctance to sell herself beyond the call of duty. Paula Jai Parker is used to tremendous comic effect as the hooker / stripper whose defiance of the pimp / ho code threatens to disrupt DJay’s carefully plotted plans. And as Shug, the pregnant Ho who holds a special place in DJay’s heart, the amazing Taraji P. Henson almost steals the flick with her heartbreaking scene where she realizes her true potential. Kudos also to the gentle turn by Black Moses himself, Isaac Hayes. As the barkeep, Arnel – his solid presence speaks volumes.

We have tremendous hope for future projects by writer / director Craig Brewer. His spare use of choppy editing and stylistic flourishes marks him as a director of blessed discretion. He is also without a doubt, capable of bringing home the comic bits and emotional payoffs. And together with his talented cinematographer Amy Vincent, paints a luscious urban canvas of the Deep South. By setting his flick in the outwardly seedy milieu of a streetwise pimp, Craig Brewer brings a refreshing twist to the depiction of the transformative power of Art. We root for DJay, because the director takes the time to depict real human beings whose daily struggle might have easily veered off into the crass or mundane. By selecting a top notch cast, and centering the film around an actor as powerful, charismatic and so clearly on top his game – Brewer manages the impossible. A great flick about a rapping pimp. Who knew? Bless you all! We out.

Written & Directed by Craig Brewer

Terrence Howard as DJay
Anthony Anderson as Key (Clyde)
Taryn Manning as Nola
Taraji P. Henson as Shug
DJ Qualls as Shelby
Paula Jai Parker as Lexus
Isaac Hayes as Arnel
Ludacris as Skinny Black
Elise Neal as Yevette

Cinematography by Amy Vincent
Film Editing by Billy Fox
Costume Design by Paul Simmons
Production Design by Keith Brian Burns
Art Direction by Alexa Marino