Monday, February 18, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Hustle & Flow

I got blindsided this week with a great little film called "Hustle & Flow". I had been interested to see Terrence Howard's Oscar-nominated performance here, but for some reason I resisted, assuming it would be some B-grade "hip hop film". As I finally watched it, it turned out I was wrong, as this film was much better than I anticipated.
The film tells the story of a Memphis pimp who decides to turn his life around in an attempt to become a successful hip-hop artist. As expected, his journey is a struggle and the film's grungy setting certainly portrays this. The film is rich in atmosphere and has a strong sense of place. It seeps through in the people's attitude, language, dress and their daily social environments. It's a place of questionable moral values, as we spend time with all manner of distasteful individuals - namely prostitutes, pimps and strippers. Despite their unfavourable lifestyles, the film doesn't seek to vilify them, setting it apart from similar films about the ghetto. It's hard to imagine, but you end up rooting for their success.
At the forefront is Terrence Howard, giving a powerful performance as Djay. He nails the nuances of his character, giving us a man going through a mid-life crisis just like any other. He shines most when he's "spitting flows", as he divulges all of the disappointments, anger and hopes through song. If you're a fan of hip-hop, I'm sure you'll be particularly fond of the creative process portrayed on screen. Even I found myself putting on my "stank face" and nodding my head to the beats. Outside of those musical scenes, he is equally capable in the dramatic moments, especially later on where he really stirs up your emotions. By the end of the movie, it's remarkable to realize how relatable this seemingly lowlife pimp is.
What I really wasn't expecting from this film was the solid supporting performances. Taryn Manning really holds her own as Djay's main trick, who basically funds his ambitions through her work. She finds subtle ways of portraying the eternal sadness and low self-esteem that comes from hitting rock bottom.
The person who really threw me for a loop however, was Taraji P. Henson as Djay's love interest. Her mousy character starts off completely disenfranchised but settles into a simple, but touching character arc. A simple gesture of kindness manages to bring such a feeling of accomplishment and empowerment to her life and Henson played it well. I dare say she is one of the most underrated character actors around.
While the film is about a place where opportunities are limited, there is an encouraging sense of hope, even in the darkest of situations. The cinematography certainly assists in this regard, forgoing dark, moody lighting for a more bright sunlit aura. It also serves a more obvious purpose though, as the actual climate of this Southern city is hot and humid. It almost seems to further heighten the urgency of Djay's mission for success.
As I mentioned earlier, the film allows you to root for all the characters and it ends up being quite enjoyable viewing, while still maintaining its gritty realism. The ending could have been handled better, but the overall message of the film is admirable. I'm definitely a fan.


  1. Good review. Not only does this movie have a sweet and sexy soundtrack, but the story itself is pretty good and I have to give a lot of credit to Brewer for that. The guy knows his material and never strays away from getting gritty or dirty. With his characters, setting, and everything else.

    1. You're right, Brewer really did a great job with this film. Lots to like.

  2. Great review here. I really enjoy when writers fuse in their experience with watching a movie. And I was the same way you were: didn't really expect much from this, but wow. It's a really really solid film.

    Funny story, around the 2005 Oscars, I convinced my mom to watch this (she had NO interest in it). She watched it, loved it, and later that night, I heard her singing "Whoop that Trick" to herself while making dinner. That was a sight.

    1. Thanks Alex. Haha, that's awesome about your mom. That alone makes the movie worth it.