Hustle & Flow works because of one reason and one reason only. That reason is Terrence Howard.
Howard injects himself into the role of DJay, a Memphis pimp who stumbles across a church choir and then strives to put his daily experiences into rap music, hoping to break out of the lifestyle he has grown to hate.
If you couldn’t tell by now, supporting actor turned leading man Howard has been a very busy man in 2005, appearing in half a dozen films – and Hustle & Flow will most likely…be the film people remember him by this year, if not for his entire career. Nominations for the Academy Awards are currently shaping up as I write this review, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Howard’s name called as a nominee.
With anyone else in the role of DJay — say a real-life rapper – Hustle & Flow probably would have floundered. This is not 8 Mile or Get Rich or Die Tryin’. While those films may succeed or fail on their own, they are ultimately different kinds of films. Where those films seemed to be more of an advertisement for said rapper’s hardships and subsequent album, neither Eminem or 50 Cent took over their films the way Howard does in Hustle & Flow. Howard brings a seasoned professionalism to his role and the film severely benefits from it, easily beating out 8 Mile or Get Rich or Die Tryin’ in the “from rags to riches” rap film category.
That isn’t to say that Hustle & Flow is a one trick pony. The supporting cast — including Taryn Manning (8 Mile), Anthony Anderson (Romeo Must Die) and Taraji P. Henson (Baby Boy) – all put in excellent work as well, but Howard’s performance is the center of this universe, and everything else revolves around it.
While some scenes may come off as corny, director Craig Brewer doesn’t allow them to last long, instantly getting the film back on track. The best scenes involve DJay’s urban monologues and scenes where DJay and company are constructing rap lyrics and beats like mad scientists. And more credit goes to Brewer for keeping Hustle & Flow mostly cliche free and realistic. Because of this, the third act sheds it’s previous skin and becomes a ticking time-bomb of unpredictability.
Hustle & Flow is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture is gritty and lightly grainy, meshing with the film’s urban decay. Despite these perhaps intentional flaws, the image is always sharp and free of any malfunctions, be it pixelation or heavy grain.
Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, Hustle & Flow’s audio track really shines. Scenes with DJay creating his music really bump and crackle with lows and highs, causing your living room to sound like an 18 year old’s tricked out Honda. But this film sounds much better than that, free of any distortion or vibration that usually comes with many automobile audio super-systems.
The disc also includes a 2.0 track that is much less powerful, but still booming enough for those without 5.1 capabilities. The film is mostly dialogue driven, so either track is competent enough to be enjoyed.
While often repetitive and long-winded, the Special Features contained on the disc are very informative and interesting. Here is what’s included…
- Commentary with Director Craig Brewer – Brewer gives an excellent commentary containing extensive anecdotes about actors and locations in the film. His love for his hometown of Memphis really shines through here as well as the other special features.
- Behind the Hustle – this featurette goes behind the scenes to explore key moments and character motivations in the film including long clips from the movie. We learn that Howard turned down the role for a year, swearing off the kinds of roles he played frequently earlier in his career.
- By Any Means Necessary – here, we learn about Brewer’s struggle to get the film made and how closely DJay’s desire to get into music mirrors that of Brewer trying to get into filmmaking.
- Creatin’ Crunk – features several Memphis musicians who helped create both the blues and rap music used in the film.
- Memphis Hometown Premiere – covers the premiere of Hustle & Flow in Memphis.
- Promotional Spots – various television commercials promoting the film.
- Previews – contains trailers for Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Four Brothers, Bad News Bears and The Honeymooners.
Hustle & Flow is to be seen for Terrence Howard’s powerhouse performance as Memphis pimp turned rapper DJay. The disc looks good, sounds great and the extras are plentiful and informative enough give the viewer a feel of what it took to bring DJay into your home. A worthy addition to any DVD buff’s collection. Sing it with me, “It’s hard out here for a pimp!”
Special Features List
- Director Commentary
- Behind the Hustle
- By Any Means Necessary
- Memphis Hometown Premiere
- Promotional Spots