Written by: Craig Brewer
Starring: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker
Daring to dream for something more in life should not be limited to the few with the opportunity. It should be available to all those with the desire to prove it, even if their primary job includes being a pimp. Starting from the ground up, Hustle & Flow shows the determination necessary to accomplish one’s dream and the necessary support needed for it to become reality. A film with plenty of heartbreak but also a bountiful amount of joy.
Spending his days working as a pimp and drug dealer, DJay (Terrence Howard) gets the idea that he wants to pursue a career in rapping. With this dream, he enlists the help of a former friend from high school and the women who live with him. Plenty for them to do, they get start in trying to make this dream a reality.
Covered in sweat, Memphis, Tennessee has never been hotter as how it gets depicted in this feature. With air conditioning and having a fan on serving as luxury for these characters, the stickiness felt in each interaction makes the desperation in trying to achieve this dream all the more pressing. Coming in like a fever overtaking the body, DJay has it set in his sights how he can achieve something he never thought he could and the journey this film takes us on demonstrates the struggles, especially when following such a flawed character.
In most films, a character who applies their trade in prostitution and and drug dealing typically does not get presented as the good guy. Participating in two illegal industries, in most cases, gets reserved for antagonists trying to disrupt law and order in specific communities. Hustle & Flow makes the bold choice in making this figure the fixation of this story in a positive sense but it does not completely let him off the hook.
DJay represents probably the kindest pimp ever depicted from the simple fact of how much he cares for the women he works with. They live in his home and he ensures they receive the care they need, even if they get pregnant because of their work. However, his temper does get the best of him at times and makes for various uncomfortable scenes. Focusing on him shows this feature does not want to have its attention on clear cut characters like Key (Anthony Anderson) but rather someone a bit more complex seeing as DJay never thought he could pursue a dream and putting in the work will end up exposing his faults as a person. Instead of making demands, he must now make requests and rely on the kindness and compassion of others. It no longer becomes about the taking but rather collaboration with other people who will demand respect.
The journey to producing the music gives this authentic and magical feeling of something special occurring on the ground floor. From the simplicity of using cup holders to create better sound in their makeshift studio, the process has this authenticity and excitement around it because everyone in the room believes in what is getting produced there. A contagious feeling that continually uplifts the mood of the film. Yes, they do not have a quality studio to make the most professional product nor do they have the money to put the tracks on a CD, but the feeling of creating something special permeates every verse spoken and makes for such a joyous experience.
Bringing this story into reality is a tremendous cast of characters portrayed by a wonderful cast. Terrence Howard puts in probably his greatest work as an actor here in portraying the complicated and flawed DJay. Howard does so well in showing how much DJay wants to accomplish this dream of his almost to the point where it hurts him when things do not go as well as expected. This character comes with plenty of ups and downs throughout the feature and Howard rides the wave like a professional. Those supporting him also bring the heart of this film to the center with Taryn Manning as Nola, Taraji P. Henson as Shug, and Anthony Anderson as Key. They all serve as necessary counterbalances for DJay showing both the protagonist’s highlights but also his deep faults. All in all they become a wonderful family, which ultimately defines what makes this film a success.
Everyone should pursue their dream, even by those deemed to be disreputable in our society because of their chosen profession. Hustle & Flow shows the grit and determination needed in order to make it a reality and the journey it displays becomes difficult to root against. A family is born and the passion to create something beautiful hits its highs in this wonderfully entertaining and inspiring feature.