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Hustle & Flow

Make no bones about it, Hustle & Flow is in contention for the best of the year. Sure, it’s a bit early to start making such bold statements, with award season not quite right around the corner. Regardless, Craig Brewer’s ode to the creative expression and struggle is the best you’ll find out there, at least up to this point.

Written and Directed by Brewer, Hustle & Flow begins with a grand throwback to seventies film with an opening sequence title pause timed so perfectly that it practically grabs you by the eyes and commands that you acknowledge what is about to unfurl on screen.

DJay (Terrence Dashon Howard), a hustler in the truest form, spends most of his time in his car, pimping his wares, which range from women to marijuana or “gateway” as he calls it, on the streets of Memphis.

DJay has his routine set in stone, cruising the streets with Nola (Taryn Manning) facilitating back seat deals to whomever comes looking for a quick fix of carnal pleasure, while Lexus (Paula Jai Parker) works a strip club to pull in lap dance twenties any which way she can. This arrangement doesn’t afford DJay and his women riches, but it pays rent and affords the expecting Yevette (Elise Neal) the opportunity to stay home while carrying her child to term.

When DJay makes a drop-off at Arnel’s (Isaac Hayes) roadside dive, he is given news that sends his world into a gradual tailspin. Successful rap artist Skinny Black (Ludacris) is set to make his annual Fourth of July visit to his former hometown of Memphis, and Arnel’s is his locale of choice to hold his homecoming bash. DJay is called upon to provide the best of his product, marijuana not women, because in previous visits he was only able to scratch out dirt weed for Skinny, and he never hears the end of it. Should DJay deliver, Arnel promises to introduce him to Skinny.

This is the first of a series of serendipitous events that lead DJay to formulate a plan, one final stab at making something of himself before it is too late to turn back. Subtlly, Brewer’s brilliant brush strokes begin showing through. Hustle & Flow is not simply the swan song of a failed rapper making one last thrust towards greatness. The film is about much more than that, in that it reflects the hopes and dreams of anyone wishing to produce a work of art, whether it be music, film, or written word.

Transcending the facets of what could have been a simple genre film detailing the struggle of one man to succeed Brewer instead concocts a film so vividly pure in spirit and drive that it seemingly peers into the souls of any DIY artist who knows they have something to contribute to the world, yet feels held down at every turn. This is their tale, and regardless of skin color, race, creed, or medium, this is an account of their struggle.

DJay is confronted with the tools for success all around him, but he can’t seem to put the puzzle together fast enough. He knows he once had skills, but he can’t seem to find a way to harness any of them in any way that will make a difference.

Adding to the tribulations of choosing a line of work that essentially preys upon human behavior, DJay is on the verge of a mid-life crisis. At one point he confronts Yevette, explaining “My Daddy, his heart gave out on him when he was my age.” This scene plays brilliantly because Yevette doesn’t quite understand what DJay is about to say, thinking that he is about to tell her that she needs to leave because she isn’t bringing in any money.

Instead, DJay is touching right to the impetus of his efforts. His mid-life crisis stems from reflecting on his father’s early passing and perhaps realizing that should he befall the same fate, he hasn’t really accomplished much with the time he’s had so far.

He is captivated by comparing his life to Skinny Black’s. DJay recalls his time spent rhyming and dee-jaying while Skinny was eagerly putting together mixes to rhyme over at a neighboring school. The parallels cause DJay to fixate on his squandered ambitions, and slowly but surely opportunities begin cropping up all around him.

Accepting a beat up keyboard as a junkie’s payment for a hit leads to DJay stringing together some musical beats at home. A chance encounter with an ex-schoolmate Key (Anthony Anderson) leads to a connection with someone with access to microphones and recording expertise. Key happens to know someone with access to sampling equipment and a sense of beat and brings Shelby (DJ Qualls) into the fold.

As the surrogate family begins to gel together with a common purpose, obstacles threaten to curb their makeshift recording sessions every step of the way. However, DJay and company find ways to incorporate their struggles into the process, making due with their given resources, and finding purpose in each roadblock that comes their way.

Brewer’s cast is absolutely stellar, with Howard leading the charge in what will hopefully prove to be an award worthy performance in the coming months. Anthony Anderson is finally given a role that he can sink into without becoming the butt of any cheap weight jokes, while DJ Qualls is never played for one note comic relief. Sure, there are a few laughs here and there, but his enthusiasm and dedication to the cause, let alone the music, is never played falsely, and the film is all the better for this.

“Everybody gotta have a dream” is the tagline attached to the film, and nobody knows this better than Brewer. He has suffered for his craft, and Hustle & Flow is a direct testament to the importance of the struggle. “Everybody gotta have a dream,” and Brewer’s dreams will hopefully be coming true in due time.


Mario Anima

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