Hustle & Flow

             The winners of two of the top prizes at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival had one thing in common:
     Memphis. The Grand Jury Prize was presented to Ira Sachs’ drama
     revolves around a philandering country and western producer and his bored Russian wife, while the Audience
     Award went to
HUSTLE & FLOW, about a pimp who wants to be a hip-hop star.

             HUSTLE & FLOW, directed and written by Craig Brewer, arrives at the cineplexes first. It’s a good
     film, made almost great by its galvanizing central performance by Terrence Howard, last seen as the frustrated
     television director in the ensemble drama
CRASH. Howard portrays DJay, who makes his living as a low-rent
     drug dealer and pimp. He has three women in his stable: Nola (Taryn Manning), the young white girl who is
     his bread and butter, Shug (Taraji P. Henson) who’s on temporary hiatus because of pregnancy, and
     foul-mouthed stripper and single mother Lexus (Paula Jai Parker).

             DJay is close to having what he calls a “midlife crisis.” Ostensibly he’s a success – but his life is not the
     greatest. His drug dealing is downplayed while the women in his life are beginning to get on one another’s
     nerves. Nola constantly complains about the lack of air conditioning in DJay’s car, while Lexus and Shug
     argue over raising Lexus’ young son. A chance meeting with an old high school friend, Key (Anthony
     Anderson), and the opportunity to party with a now successful rap star, Skinny Black (Ludacris), spur DJay
     to make some changes.

             He determines to cut a demo and pass it on to the rapper, and DJay is not one to take no for an answer.
     After convincing Key to assist him, they set out to cut a record. Key brings in Shelby (DJ Qualls), a white
     sound technician who more than knows what he’s doing. Together they work on laying down the tracks of the
     recording. (And this section of the film is perhaps the most entertaining and enlightening, showing DJay's
     determination and highlighting the surprising qualities of at least of one of the girls.)

             DJay finally has his sit-down with Skinny Black and the film takes a slightly predictable turn. I
     anticipated most of the plot points from that moment on, which was something of a disappointment because
     up to that point, the film was replete with surprises.

             Brewer the screenwriter needs to work to avoid formulaic situations. (Besides the ending, one character’s
     change of heart was fairly easy to anticipate.) As a director, though, Brewer has a terrific eye and he handles his
     actors well. The cast is uniformly terrific, but the standouts are Manning, Henson, Parker, Anderson and Elise
     Neal as his uptight wife. But this is Howard’s show and he runs with it. Following on his sterling supporting
     work in
RAY and CRASH (in which he also shared an important scene with Ludacris), he emerges here as a
     full-fledged leading man.

             While watching
HUSTLE & FLOW, I was struck by some of the similarities to the recent French film
     THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED. Each film features an unhappy man trapped by circumstances
     in a violent world who seeks solace in a musical outlet. The two characters also have complicated relationships
     with women. The major difference is in the means they eventually chose to change their lives. Both films are
     worthy ones, and while the French film may have the edge (there’s a little too much hustle and not enough flow
     in the American movie), each should be seen.

                               Rating:                            B
                               MPAA Rating:                R for for sex and drug content, pervasive language and
                                                                                some violence
                               Running time:                 116 mins.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.