Hustle and Flow (2006) dir. Craig Brewer
Starring: Terrence Howard
Let’s go back to ancient history and revisit, last year’s Oscar race. It really was a miracle that Terrence Howard got nominated for an Oscar. Nothing about the film smells of Oscar-bait, yet, Terrence Howard was plucked out of relative obscurity despite years of bit-roles and given a career-defining Oscar nomination. Believe it or not, I think the Academy is getting smarter, because and he deserved it. His performance is so good, and in my opinion he should have won (as you may recall Philip Seymour Hoffman won for Capote).
“Hustle & Flow,” without Terrence Howard is just another “8-Mile”-wannabee hip-hop exploitation film, but with him it’s terrific. DJ (Howard) is an urban hustler and pimp who lives day by day pimping out his girls from his car. He’s 40-ish, probably over-the-hill for a hustler and tired of the lifestyle. He still hangs onto his dream of being a rap superstar. One day he bumps into an old friend Key (Anthony Anderson), whom he remembers as once a music DJ from his school days. But it’s been years since Key has thought about music – he’s a family man. The meeting is awkward. But, as the title suggests, DJ hustles for a living and decides to pitch Key on his rap lyrics. DJ’s desperation is painful to watch, but Key hears some talent, and despite his years away from the game, his drive for success in music is rekindled.
The pair embark on a “Rocky-esque” rags-to-riches journey. The pair employ a nerdy sound engineer, Shelby, to help with the recording. The three of them, using junkyard-type tools create their own makeshift recording studio and proceed to drop some serious beats and rhymes old school style. It’s raw but golden.
Of course, a demo can only get you so far, it has to get into the right hands. DJ’s target is a distant friend from his childhood – Skinny Black (Ludacris) – who has gone on to become a successful star. Skinny is on a pedestal for DJ – a leap of faith he must take to realize his dream. A meeting in a club gives him one chance. And the scene is electric – and Oscar-worthy. The final act/denouement moves in an unexpected direction that’s surprising and uplifting.
The entire film rests on Howard’s shoulder to convey the feeling of desperation, drive, and “hustle” it takes for a man like to become successful in a survival-of-the-fittest society. To bring it home personally, it’s like making a movie - there’s no formula, you do what it takes to “make it happen”. DJ speaks like a preacher, a hip-hop Elmer Gantry – philosophical and intelligent with street smarts. I wonder if anything in the film is related to the rise of Kid Rock – who for years in Detroit was the ultimate huckster and hustler of pure determination before finally achieving success (yes I watched his E! True Hollywood Story).
Craig Brewer directs with confidence and should be acknowledged as well. In fact, his new film BLACK SNAKE MOAN is getting good advance reviews.
“Hustle and Flow” towers over “8-Mile”, please rent it and enjoy.