Hustle & Flow
Microphone check … Mic check … No, it’s not a song, this thing isn’t working!

Theatrical Release Date: 07/22/2005
Director: Craig Brewer
Cast: Terence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, DJ Qualls, Paula Jai Parker, Ludacris

As everyone knows, it’s hard out here for a pimp. There are hos to manage, tricks to be sold and game to be played. Wait a minute … how would I know? I just sit alone at home or in a theater and render judgments on other people’s hard work.

Oh, I just watched “Hustle & Flow” … nope, I still don’t really know how hard it is out in the world for a pimp. But I do know that this is a showcase for the preeminent talent of Terence Howard. While I’m coming to the party late on this particular film, I’ve noticed his performances in films since then and most moviegoers could tell you the high level of acting you’re going to get when Mr. Howard is on-screen.

In “Hustle & Flow”, he plays a pimp struggling to get through life. He’s reached a fork in the road and is beginning to wonder if this is all life has in store for him. Running into an old friend, Howard hatches a plan to make a demo tape and get into the rap game.

What follows is a fairly standard coming-together of elements, as his “ladies” lend their talents to the cause in every way possible and DJ Qualls gets to play the down white guy who can whip up phat beats. Still, what director Craig Brewer has put into the film is a lot of heart and the performances elevate the film from something above average to one of the stand out films of 2005.

As mentioned earlier, Howard turns in a phenomenal performance. Key to the success of his character is the ability to talk people into doing what he wants, whether that’s one of his women or a rap superstar in position to turn his demo into fame and fortune. What makes these interactions so moving is that you can see Howard struggling to remain the one in control. He is constantly challenged and as the film progresses, he begins to understand that belief in himself creates belief in other people.

Adding to the layers in the film are the people in Howard’s life. While his childhood friend turned record producer (Anthony Anderson) is the catalyst for the endeavor, it is Howard’s love (as complicated as it may be) for his two women – one, an active prostitute and the other carrying his child – that give the film heart.

Taryn Manning plays a young, confused girl searching for her identity through whatever scraps of self-confidence she can gain from everyone around her. While her character is initially integral to the story, as the film was about Howard and his struggle, there are only glimpses into her character’s true depths and I was a little disappointed to see how cliché her role became towards the end of the film.

The same cannot be said of Taraji P. Henson. Her character is a meek, pregnant bystander to the events in the household … that is, until Howard and crew enlist her voice (which is oh-so-coincidentally great) to create a hook for their song. From that point on, she exudes a completely different aura, full of confidence and support.

The music in the film is excellent, and while I still contend the Academy awarded the Best Song Oscar to “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” because they wanted to seem edgy (having just given Eminem an Oscar the year before), it is a catchy song. As a fan of the hip-hop sounds of the South, this film kept my head bobbin’ (wow, I am very white (culturally, ethnically I’m a mutt)).

So if you’re looking for a film about finding hope amongst a bleak landscape of poverty and degradation, “Hustle & Flow” is for you and I’m giving it a 4 out of 5. The performances are generally top-notch and it’s a classic story told in a more culturally relevant fashion. Also, it has Chef himself, Isaac Hayes … which is nice.