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Craig Brewer
Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, DJ Qualls, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, Isaac Hayes, Ludacris
Writing Credits:
Craig Brewer

Everybody gotta have a dream.

DJay is a Memphis hustler who spends most days in a parked Chevy philosophizing about life while Nola (Taryn Manning), turns tricks in the backseat. He's not very good at pimping, but he can hustle almost anything or anyone and makes enough to keep himself and three girls satisfied and housed in his shotgun home. DJay however is in the midst of a midlife crisis; he quietly harbors dreams of becoming a respected rapper. When he learns from a local club owner, Arnel (Isaac Hayes), that rap mogul Skinny Black (Ludacris), is rolling through town, DJay decides to record his flow with the hopes of slipping his demo to Skinny. With little help from his friends and "family" DJay sets in motion the hustle of his life, and galvanizes the lives of those around him as they learn that "Everybody gotta have a dream."

Box Office:
$8 million.
Opening Weekend
$8.017 million on 1013 screens.
Domestic Gross
$22.201 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 115 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 1/10/2006

• Audio Commentary from Writer/Director Craig Brewer
• “Behind the Hustle” Featurette
• “By Any Means Necessary” Featurette
• “Creatin’ Crunk” Featurette
• Memphis Hometown Premiere
• 6 Promotional Spots
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Hustle And Flow (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 3, 2006)

For years Terrence Howard idled in supporting parts. That changed with 2005’s Hustle & Flow, a flick that must be regarded as a breakthrough for him. It received consistently positive notices, many of which focused on his performance. Whether Howard will turn this into a springboard to future success remains to be seen, and we also have to wait to find out if he’ll attract Oscar notice. It sure beats roles as Jackie Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream or as young Al Cowlings in The OJ Simpson Story, though.

Set in Memphis, Flow casts Howard as DJay, a two-bit pimp and drug dealer. He sells some weed and also runs a small stable of prostitutes. Actually, Lexus (Paula Jai Parker) gets the higher class gig as a stripper, while Nola (Taryn Manning) and Shug (Taraji P. Henson) work the streets for $20 tricks. The heavily pregnant Shug currently resides on the sidelines, though, which leaves Nola as one of DJay’s main sources of income.

In the midst of this rough and tumble life, DJay acquires a cheap Casio keyboard that reignites his lifelong love for music. A chance encounter with a high school classmate gives DJay the chance to do something with his renewed passion. It turns out that Clyde (Anthony Anderson) records amateurs and court proceedings, so DJay figures the two can work together to put DJay’s “flow” on tape.

This idea starts poorly, but Clyde soon signs onto DJay’s plan and also brings in recording engineer Shelby (DJ Qualls) to assist. DJay refines his rhymes and eventually gets some good stuff on tape. He hopes to approach star rapper Skinny Black (Ludacris) – a Memphis native – and get his big break. The movie follows this path and shows what happens as DJay attempts to break out of his hustle and capitalize on his flow.

Here’s the truth: I don’t know any two-bit pimps and I hope never to spend time with any two-bit pimps. If you look for expertise in the world of two-bit pimps, I’m not the source you seek.

That said, I question how accurately Hustle & Flow depicts the world of two-bit pimps. As I recall, the word on the film was that it offered a gritty, no holds barred look at that rough lifestyle. I don’t see the flick that way, as I think it presents an oddly introspective, sugarcoated view of things.

Don’t take that to mean that Flow doesn’t show lots of seedy situations. To be sure, it makes that scene look pretty unpleasant and undesirable. However, the movie gives the situations a surprisingly chipper spin and doesn’t infuse them with the dirtiness and nastiness they require.

Really, the film posits all sorts of unpleasant possibilities. DJay clearly lives a hardscrabble life. Anyone whose prostitutes only charge $20 a trick – or $40 from behind – can’t be living too high on the hog, and the women in question would seem likely to be rather troubled as well. The flick doesn’t give us as rough a take on this scene as I’d expect, though. In fact, except for the bitter, trouble-making Lexus, they seem to form a happy little family.

I find this hard to accept. DJay appears to care an awful lot for his women given the fact he sells them so cheaply. I’d expect him to be an uncaring mercenary, not a softhearted aspiring artiste.

DJay forms probably the most sensitive pimp in movie history. He cries easily and becomes hurt when mistreated. Are we really supposed to accept that someone in as harsh a world as he lives will be so introspective and emotional? If any two-bit pimps read this, I don’t mean to impugn their feelings and humanity – I’m sure they’re all lovely human beings when you get to know them – but I find it tough to accept this portrait of DJay as realistic.

This means Flow lands firmly in the world of fantasy. That’s fine, I suppose, though the movie fails to balance its two sides. On one hand, it wants to be a gritty depiction of street life, but on the other hand, it tries to give us a rags to riches story. It’s like something Shirley Temple would have made, just with more hos, drugs and profanity.

I think Flow offers an entertaining flick. Howard indeed provides a nice performance as DJay. The script requires him to embrace all those improbable scenarios and emotions, but the actor manages to give the character a feeling of humanity despite the silliness. The others back him up with quality performances as well.

Frankly, Flow would have played better as a straight comedy. It enjoys some funny moments such as when DJay tries to soften his song titles. He starts out with “Beat That Bitch”, but when Clyde tells him that’s not radio-friendly, DJay suggests “Stomp That Ho”. Some good comedy emerges in the course of the flick.

That’s not enough, however, and Flow ends up as an inconsistent and oddly unfocused movie. It keeps us entertained for its running time and has some quality moments. Because it fails to embrace a realistic worldview, it falls short of its goals.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

Hustle & Flow appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Objectively, this transfer had some problems, but since all seemed to be intentional, it worked well as a whole.

For the most part, sharpness seemed positive. Some light softness crept in at times, but not with any real frequency. Instead, most of the flick appeared well defined and detailed. No problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little light edge enhancement popped up periodically throughout the movie. Print flaws seemed absent, as I noted no signs of specks, marks, or other defects. Grain could be somewhat heavy, though.

Flow presented a limited palette that featured largely stylized colors. Within those constraints, the tones looked fine. They were reasonably concise and vivid despite a brownish cast to much of the movie. Black levels seemed fairly deep and firm, while shadows were clean and well-developed. Ultimately, Flow looked good given the stylistic constraints of the cinematography.

When I examined the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Hustle & Flow, I found a surprisingly involving piece. The mix emphasized music to terrific effect. It used all five channels to create an immersive setting in which the songs and score engulfed and embraced us. Given the movie’s use of rap, this was important, and it created a much more impressive soundfield than I expected.

Music dominated the mix, but other elements helped flesh out the mix as well. Some louder effects like thunder and guns popped up in the expected spots. These opened up the soundfield and helped make it lively and engrossing.

At all times, the mix offered excellent audio quality. Again, music highlighted the proceedings. The songs and score always sounded terrific. They presented crisp highs and terrific low-end. Bass was absolutely stellar for all elements. The rap tunes highlighted this best, but some effects like thunder also pumped deep, tight bass.

Effects also seemed clear and accurate, while speech was represented well. I couldn’t call all the lines easily intelligible, but that stemmed from the actors’ accents. At times it was tough to understand what they said, an issue that stemmed from articulation, not from recording quality. I rarely give “A”-level grades to soundtracks dominated by music, but Flow used the spectrum so well and sounded so good that I thought it merited that mark.

As we move to the DVD’s extras, we launch with an audio commentary from director Craig Brewer. He provides a running, screen-specific discussion. Brewer gets into the personal influences he brought to the project and traces its path to the screen. He lets us know elements of his career and how he worked with producer John Singleton. Brewer also chats about the cast and their performances, the use of music and creating the tunes, shooting in Memphis and that region’s role in the flick, story and characters, and a variety of technical topics, most of which connect to life as a low-budget filmmaker.

Brewer creates an excellent commentary. He shows great enthusiasm for his subject and provides a lively, no-holds-barred view of his work. He delivers all the expected information plus more, especially when he ties into the personal aspects of the film. We even find some touching notes such as how his father supported him and an homage to his dad. This is a top-notch track.

After this we find three featurettes. Behind the Hustle runs 27 minutes, 19 seconds. It includes behind the scenes bit, movie snippets, and remarks from Brewer, producers John Singleton and Stephanie Allain, and actors Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Juicy J, DJ Qualls, Elise Neal, Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker and Ludacris. It looks at why Howard joined the cast and what he did with his role, teaching Howard to rap, other characters and actors, and the depiction of the south. Some of this comes across as a simple recap of the story, but we get some nice insights into casting and characters. Along with some fun audition footage, those elements mean that the show’s worth a look.

More behind the scenes material shows up in the 14-minute and 39-second By Any Means Necessary. It features Brewer, Singleton, Allain, Howard, Anderson, Henson, and Qualls. “Necessary” looks at the story’s origins and its script, Brewer’s prior work and its influence on Flow, problems getting financing for the flick, shooting in Memphis, dealing with the challenges of the low budget, and the movie’s positive reception at Sundance. Inevitably, “Necessary” repeats some bits from the commentary. It opens things up a bit, though, and it proves useful.

For the final featurette, we get Creatin’ Crunk. It fills 13 minutes, 40 seconds, and includes notes from Brewer, Singleton, Allain, Manning, score composer Scott Bomar, actor Isaac Hayes, and musicians Charles “Skip” Pitts and Al Kapone. The program looks at the flick’s music. We find out about the score and its recording as well as the rap tunes. Again, Brewer touches on this in his commentary, but we learn quite a lot more here. It’s especially good to see the musicians at work.

The July 6 2005 Memphis Hometown Premiere shows the flick’s debut there. We see Brewer and other participants as they arrive and chat with the press. We also watch Brewer receive an honor from the mayor. Frankly, it’s not very interesting.

Six Promotional Spots are more fun to see. These don’t just offer clips from the movie. Instead, most show unique snippets with Howard and some of the others. This makes them pretty cool to watch.

The DVD opens with some ads. We get promos for Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, Four Brothers, The Honeymooners and Bad News Bears. These also appear in the DVD’s Previews area.

Despite being set in a rough environment, Hustle & Flow feels like a throwback flick. If Mickey Rooney could have played a pimp, then Flow is the sort of movie he’d have made. The film entertains but doesn’t quite gel, largely due to the incongruous nature of the story. The DVD offers good picture and audio along with a nice set of extras highlighted by an excellent commentary. Flow merits a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.7647 Stars Number of Votes: 17
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