Hustle & Flow (2005)
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With that said, it is not a film for children. It is not a film meant to portray ideal role models for children. It IS a film meant to realistically depict the lives of people who live at the very bottom of America's socioeconomic ladder.
If you find yourself unable to reserve judgment against people born into a life so vastly different than your own, you will probably not like this film. In order to appreciate it, you have to be able to see past the moral and ethical ambiguities of these characters.
So if anyone feels unsure whether they can handle the ugliness of this type of world, but still feels curious enough to see it, take a cue from the Anthropologists...
When studying a culture vastly different than your own, make sure to leave the rights and wrongs of your society at home. Because once you impose the moral judgment and ethical standards of your world upon another's, you've sacrificed your objectivity. And by doing so, miss the very point of empathy.
On its face, this seems like a typical "man rises from the ashes of his hardscrabble life to experience success and then watches it all crash down around him" kind of movie. It's not a movie about suffering, success, and redemption, in other words. But it's not as predictable as it may seem at first blush, and Howard is not your typical actor, by any shot.
DJay lives with his small stable of prostitutes in a tumble-down shack in the Memphis ghetto. As pimps go, he's not exactly Donald Trump. Some dance for an exotic club during the day and hook at night; some hook all day. But the money's not rolling in for DJay, who remains somewhat confident that he'll someday come out ahead. When he obtains the keyboard, inspiration strikes, and a chance encounter with an old classmate (Anthony Anderson) who's now a producer (of sorts) gives DJay the opportunity to jump out of the rotten life he's carved for himself.
This never feels like a typical rise-and-fall story, and that's thanks in no small part to the powerful performance by Howard, who's much better here than in the critically lauded (by some) Crash. Appearing with Howard in Crash was Ludicrous, who also has a big role in Hustle and Flow - hey, some rappers are very good actors, it turns out. Howard, aided by a crisp script from Craig Brewer, who also directed, never portrays DJay as simply a nice guy with some flaws, someone who's been handed a bad hand and is making the best of it. It's clear that DJay's made all of his own choices, and the situation he finds himself in - depending on hookers for his livelihood - is of his own doing.
But neither does the script show DJay as being entirely bad, either, as evidenced by some surprisingly tender, moving scenes between DJay and Key (Anderson) and DJay and Shug, his pregnant woman. These scenes don't come off as stilted or insincere, and that's thanks especially to Howard's strong performance. True, too, are the scenes in which DJay lays down a rap track in his home; you can feel the rage seeping through your television.
This movie might be a difficult sell to those who have trouble relating to the environment and atmosphere in which DJay operates. Undoubtedly those who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks will recognize aspects of their own lives, identifying strongly with one or more of the characters. But even those of us who have never lived in squalor, who've generally had advantages that others do not, can appreciate the intense, gray world in which DJay and his associates live. Had this been a simple, typical biography of a musician from the mean streets, it wouldn't have had near the effectiveness, the passion of Hustle and Flow. The movie intrigues you, makes you want to know what happens to DJay, even when it's obvious he's a bit of a jerk. But because he's not a stupid man, his actions cannot be painted as simply good or simply bad. Howard, in particular, is well deserving of his critical accolades here.
This movie could've turned out bad with clichéd acting and over the top performances (there were moments where I felt his strip club whore was too much), but what makes you stick with the story, is that you really feel sorry for these people and you want them to succeed. The producer Stephanie Allain was at the L.A. premiere, and said that the character wanting to have a dream of better things was the universal theme that struck her. Craig (the director) also said that the story used bits and pieces of his own life and people he has met in Memphis to craft a story that really does happen to a lot of black people trying to get into the rap game. True, the hook of the story, a pimp wanting to be a rapper, sounds really funny. Lord knows if Mike Epps or Brian Hooks (or God forbid, Snoop) had been cast in the lead, this movie would've turned booty real quick. But once again, Terrence Howard makes this story come alive. I enjoy rap, but don't find crunk and a lot of lyrics enjoyable, but I must admit, in the context of the world it comes from and the hopes that these characters have, I was one of many people (the black ones in particular) who found myself swaying and singing the lyrics to "Whoop that Trick" et al.
As for the person on this board who commented that he too was at the Los Angeles Film Festival and found the white characters "acting black" tiresome, it must be said that in the south, black speech patterns and culture get picked up by whites. Living in close proximity creates that, and I didn't feel that the white characters were playing black. There was one comment in the movie where DJ Qualls arrives and Terrenc Howards character pulls Anthony Anderson aside and and questions the white boy's skills as a beat junkie, but that was the only time his color was brought up. But it was natural, no different than guys from Metallica questioning the skills of a black dude auditioning for a guitar gig. The subtext was simply "Does this dude even listen to crunk music?" Once his skills are proved, there is no question of race anymore.
The film should do well. I will see it again with my mother. Yes my mother. She loves Terrence Howard as much as I do, and I feel the movie should have a wide audience, young and old (with parental supervision). I enjoy watching Terrence Howard work, he makes you feel everything he feels on screen, and if this thing doesn't make him blow up, I don't know what will. He is the movie. See it for yourself and decide for yourself. Cuz it's hard out here for a pimp, ya'all.
Ps. For those feminists who get their panties all twisted because of any images of female exploitation, I must comment that all the women in this film (as broke down and trashy as they are) have dreams too, and Terrence's character realizes that they deserve better and strives to help them by helping himself. There is no such thing as a good pimp (like there is no such thing as a good slave master) but what redeems Terrence is that his pimp transforms his life and all those around him for the better.
They took the material seriously rather than letting it devolve into schmaltz or comedy. The direction is straight on, no BS, no showy shots. They take their time with each scene.
Good story, perfect characters well realized. Witty, crackling dialogue. You can't make this stuff up. And comparing this to 8 mile is like comparing dogshit to gold.
A deeply flawed protagonist who is able to reach into himself and transform himself through the power of art, larger themes involve the disillusion with fame, consumer culture.
This is everything a film is supposed to be. If it makes you feel good to knock this film, then you are a snob. If you think can make a better movie than this, then go ahead!
People who love movies love this film. This is what film is about.
The increasingly talented Terence Howard (recently seen in Ray and Crash), plays DJay, a pimp turned rapper who wants to prove his worth and swap his tricks for a trade in America's crunked up south.
Newcomer Craig Brewer takes the helm as we visit Memphis and see it through the eyes of the down but not outters consisting of DJay and his working girls. When he reunites with school friend Key (Anthony Anderson) they decide to take charge of their lives and realise their dream by putting together a demo tape of their skills, with the hope of hitting the big time.
This is not a bad movie, in fact Howard is equally as convincing as a pimp with a newly found heart and as a rapper, something that was both a bold and a fruitful choice. If the star hadn't convinced on any level it is a sure-fire guess to say a non-rapper would never be allowed to rap in a movie, but he did and he did it well.
The standard underdog making it to the big time route has been bypassed and replaced with a story that hold's your attention and has an unpredictable and real conclusion.
Amongst Flow's supporting cast, Isaac Hayes takes stage as the bar-owner who puts DJay in touch with the hometown's former star- Skinny Black, played sneeringly by Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges. As well as these two familiar songsters, Anthony Anderson and DJ Qualls, of Road Trip fame, make up the group and put in solid performances. The female cast who constitute DJay's trade are Eminem's ex-girlfriend in 8 Mile, Taryn Manning and Paula Jai Parker as the outspoken Lexus, again all providing non-sterling but convincing turns as part of the phat pack.
But it is Taraji P. Henson's part as the heavily pregnant Nola who catches the eye as a sweet and naïve part of the outfit. It is her who seems to be the only person that allows DJay to relinquish his sometimes brutal pimp suit and put on something more responsible and caring as he ventures out hustling for his right to fame.
This is not your standard cheer at the screen rise-to-fame story that Americans seem to love, too much. What it is, is a well thought out project that takes you on a journey of trials and tribulations that are the all more convincing when performances by Howard, Manning and Henson garnish the story.
The gritty staging, the solid no-frills camera-work and editing, and some really excellent performances make this well worth the effort to confront dishonest characters struggling to find some sort of integrity in their efforts to survive and succeed. These characters are not likable - none of them are, they each have a tic that denies them total sympathy from the audience. But they are all very human for that, and so ultimately win our respect if not approval.
Among the actors, two performances especially shine. Terrence Howard as DJay shows timing and expression worthy of much older, more "schooled" actors. Anthony Anderson is a real and pleasant surprise; stuck in character roles for the past decade, Anderson has become a real annoyance to me, as the usual character he plays is really excessive, a caricature. In this role, he is allowed to just act, and he delivers a wholly believable multifaceted performance.
Hollywood has been producing such bad films that saying this film is among the best released this year may not be saying much (there are real and undeniable weaknesses to the film). Nonetheless, on the whole, the film is a commendable and rewarding effort to present a drama involving human beings living close to real life, and not cartoons. I credit that effort, and recommend a viewing.
(Comment) The movie was filmed all around Memphis during 2004. Memphian Craig Brewer wrote and directed 'Hustle and Flow,' and I went to the red carpet movie premiere in Memphis on 6 July. Craig Brewer told the audience about his father's watch that was used in the movie, and he was wearing it for good luck that night. He was also wearing a 3-carat diamond ring that belonged to Sam Phillips. As for the movie, Terrence Howard's role as DJay is a remarkable one in that he becomes immersed in the character of DJay. Howard comes off as a real pimp with all the anger, conflicts, and frustrations, which he encounters in life. There is no such thing as a good pimp, but the character of DJay realizes that his women have dreams too, and that he wants to change everything around him and them for the better. The subject matter and the lyrics to the rap music are a little rough, but the movie is a good one to see. (Paramount Classics, Run time 1:54, Rated R) (8/10)