Hustle & Flow (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
DJay is a small-time pimp eking out a meager living with a small
stable of hookers and a street hustler's gift for selling his product.
He is also a reflective man who realizes that he's nearly 40, and has
created a life that is nothing like what he ever imagined for himself.
He has a chance encounter with an old schoolmate who has become a
small-time music producer, and together they conclude that DJay's
verbal gifts could work in a hip-hop format. They create a makeshift
studio, bring in some other people they know (including one of the
hookers), and have soon created a demo tape from their hip-hop equivalent of a garage
band. The next trick is to convince somebody with
some influence to listen to the tape and promote it.
This is one of those films after which I sat back and thought, "I can't believe I liked that." Hell, I not only liked it, but I found it mesmerizing. Yet there's basically nothing in it that appeals to me. I'm a 57-year-old white man, and have no interest in your average "urban film" story about pimps, hos and gangsta rap. I don't mind hip-hop, but I'm no big fan either. Despite all of that, I genuinely liked this film, and that's a testament to its crossover appeal. It is not just targeted at people who love urban films and gangsta rap. First of all, it was written and directed by a white guy and it's basically a modernized version of an old-fashioned rags-to-riches yarn. Second, it's just plain entertaining. The acting is great, it's emotionally rich, it's surprisingly funny (very few reviewers noted this), and it offers an absolutely fascinating look at the detailed process of creating a song.
There is also a tremendous and completely unexpected musical bonus in Hustle & Flow. In addition to the hip-hop, there is a rendition of a spiritual in this movie by a classically trained mezzo soprano named Jennifer Bynum Green. Her solo, and Terrence Howard's reaction to her performance, are worth the price of admission alone. It's one of the best scenes in any 2005 movie. And, Lord, can that woman sing! Gives ya chills!
Although this film has a lot of the feel-good elements of a traditional rags-to-riches tale, it does not allow us to pull away from a realistic view of prostitution and poverty. By the end of the movie we are rooting for DJay to succeed, but that empathy has to be earned through the depth of our understanding of the man, because on the surface he is a complete lowlife, a pimp and drug dealer who exploits and abuses women. That the film succeeds at all, and it does, is a tribute to one of the most effective actors on the planet, Terrence Howard, who delivers DJay as another variation on his "soft-spoken yet filled with emotion" character, albeit a version less sinister than he has been asked to deliver in the past.
Terrence is now on the verge of superstardom, but back around 1998-2000, I was just about the only one who noticed what a great talent he was. He's been the best thing in a lot of bad movies. (Glitter, anyone?) Here's what I wrote about his performance in the silly film Big Momma's House:
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