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HUSTLE & FLOW

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, D.J. Qualls, Ludacris
Director: Craig Brewer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2006

“WHOOP THAT TRICK!”

Film ***1/2

If last year had any pivotal breakthrough success for an actor, it was easily Terrence Howard. After delivering many memorable supporting roles in films such as Dead Presidents and Hart’s War, Howard has officially made his mark as a truly powerful acting presence. He was of the big standouts in Crash as a racially afflicted television producer, and now with Hustle and Flow Howard has delivered a performance for the history books.

The film, which deservedly won the audience award at Sundance last year, is one of the more unforgettable character studies I’ve experienced. It does more than focus on a character, but it does nothing short of immerse the viewer in the character’s surroundings and struggles. Every move the character makes, we are right there with him.

Howard plays DJay, a Memphis pimp who has rationalized his every move since the day he got into such a profession. It’s not the life he originally planned for, but he is a businessman out to make a dollar, no matter how bad the struggle. He is a smart individual who grew up under not the best of circumstances, leading to his current state.

One day, DJay gets an epiphany. After running into a former school pal named Key (Anthony Anderson), who soundproofs music equipment at churches, and witnessing a powerful music performance from a choir singer, DJay acknowledges his true calling. With the help of Key and an additional music specialist named Shelby (D.J. Qualls), DJay plans to cut a hip-hop demo tape and leave his pimp days behind.

One of the invigorating aspects of Hustle and Flow is the way it shows the musical process of cutting a demo tape. DJay gets into his mode, as he refers to, where he bursts out any choice set of rhymes. He delivers the words, and Key and Shelby provide the appropriate beat. The cutting of the first track, titled “Whoop That Trick”, is one sequence that will get into your system, big time.

But as he’s starting to make his dream a pure reality, DJay still has to worry about his three female employees under his about-to-be former profession. One of them, Shug (Taraji P. Henson), has a baby on the way, while another, Lexus (Paula Jai Parker) is always consistently feuding with him. Then there’s Nola (Taryn Manning), who is promised to become DJay’s business partner, even if it means turning tricks in order to obtain certain necessities, such as a microphone from a pawn shop.

And how does DJay plan on getting his voice heard? Huge rap star Skinny Black (Ludacris), who came right from Memphis, is returning home for a fourth of July party. It is there that DJay, who claims to know Skinny Black real well from back in the day, plans to make his move and give his demo tape to Skinny, ensuring a future in the music business.

As of now, Hustle and Flow has become the all around best film about rap music to date, surpassing even 8 Mile. It has a sense of realism to its story, as well as pure authenticity to its setting. The fact that rap music’s important relation to the South is mentioned is more than enough to make me cheer. And then there’s Terrence Howard, who has truly given the most astonishing and emotionally involving screen performance since that of Sean Penn in Mystic River, which is the highest form of praise I can think of.

Hustle and Flow is a dynamic character study of the highest order, filled with characters and music that will both strike your soul simultaneously.

Video ***1/2

Paramount’s anamorphic transfer (Full Screen available separately), is immense in terrific quality. Director Craig Brewer and cinematographer Amy Vincent have brought a superbly authentic look to Memphis, a city rarely explored in the movies, and it translates very well to the format. Despite one instance of noticeable grain, the presentation is, for the most part, as incredibly clear and detailed as can be.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix shines greatly. Even though the film is a dialogue driven piece, there are bits of music that work the sound system in some outstanding ways. The scenes of DJay cutting his tracks in the home studio are a thunderous treat for the ears. In addition, the dialogue is delivered in an ultra-clear form, and additional music on the soundtrack sounds fantastic, as well.

Features ****

Paramount has included on this release some of the better made bonus material I’ve seen lately. Featured on the disc is a commentary with writer/director Craig Brewer. Also featured are three extremely well made documentaries; “Behind the Hustle”, “By Any Means Necessary”, and “Creatin’ Crunk”. Also included is footage from the Memphis Premiere of the film, promotional spots and bonus previews.

Summary:

With its raw look and feel, as well as the Grade A performances, Hustle and Flow is a cinematic experience that will grab you and stay with you. And as for Terrence Howard, Oscar consideration is very much requested from this reviewer!

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