HUSTLE AND FLOW is one of the best films released this year. It is funny, dramatic, has elements of a thriller and a domestic farce. Trust me – you don’t have to be into rap music to get a lot from this movie.
How can I describe how awesome a movie this is? First off, every acting performance is superb. Terrence Howard is having some kind of year. First, his superb performance in Paul Haggis’ “Crash” as the TV producer dealing with racism in modern day Los Angeles, forced to look on helpless as his wife is finger-fucked by a LAPD officer. Now his break-out-role as D-Jay, a low-level Memphis p*mp, who wants to become a rap star. Howard raps on all the tracks, combines the necessary mean business-like attitude of a p*mp with occasional flashes of integrity and tenderness. Plus, he reportedly spent months trying to get the Memphis drawl just right. (I am no judge, I live in London.)
The gaggle of prostitutes controlled by D-Jay are not one-dimensional screeching cr*ck-heads – they are real women in a bad place. In particular, Taryn Manning, who plays Nola, is fantastic and will surely get picked up for mainstream Hollywood roles on the back of this. Ludakris is great as Skinny Black, another local kid made good, and James will be thrilled to see that Isaac Hayes has a small walk-on part. Behind the camera, the cinematography by Amy Vincent, who directed the 2nd unit on “Lemony Snickett” is decent. Far better is the fact that the tracks D-Jay is writing actually sound like they could chart. We actually believe in Terrence Howard could be a rap star and this makes us invest a lot of emotion in the challenge of getting him noticed.
I honestly cannot think of a bad word to say about HUSTLE AND FLOW, but others have. The movie has attracted a lot of criticism because it was written and directed by – shock! Horror! a white man, namely Craig Brewer. And it is true that when you see TV footage of Brewer he does come over a bit Ali-G. But as John Singleton, the film’s producer and director of the superb “Boyz’n the hood” said, “What is a black film? Is an Eddie Murphy film a black film.” I quite agree. If Eddie can do such populist studio crap as "Doctor Doolittle", why shouldn’t Brewer do a movie about a p*mp turned rapper? I mean it’s not like he isn’t at home with the material. Like his protagonist, Brewer’s Mrs. was a stripper who had to give up when she got pregnant. And surely the only benchmark should be whether or not he makes a good movie? Brewer seems to be aware of the minefield he is about to step in to when he introduces a young white boy who helps D-Jay out with his music. When they first meet, D’Jay asks his black friend, Key, “Who's this niggah?” Key replies, “That's Shelby, he plays piano in my church. I thought he could help us develop your sound.” D’Jay looks aghast, “You know he's white, right?”
The film also took a lot of heat from black critics for portraying “the worst of Memphis”, as though the city was only about p*mps, h*okers and decrepit housing. But surely you can’t have it both ways. If "The Cosby Show" was too unrealistically upper-middle class, at least HUSTLE AND FLOW is telling you what is actually happening at the bottom of the heap. The movie never pretends to give you a comprehensive picture of society but to take you for a short time into D-Jay’s world. Surely this is as valid as Charles Dickens only showing the seamy side of Chancery Lane in "Bleak House"….
HUSTLE AND FLOW opened in July in the US, and is released in the UK on the 11th November, in Germany on the 17th November and in France on the 7th December 2005. Terrence Howard has been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in this film.