“You want to deal with him? Deal with me first.
Uh, why you laughing?”

The Dream Team

A pimp all pumped up to rap. The indie drama “Hustle & Flow” made around $22 million in the box office. It could’ve been more lucrative had the movie been turned into a critically bashed PG-13 comedy. Imagine the line of spectators eager to see a pimp in a suit, glimmering in blings, and spitting out cheeky lines with golden teeth. For that matter, “8 Mile” could’ve been a comedy about a black guy trapped in a white guy’s body.

Well, sometimes filmmakers can be selfish. They don’t want to become whores galloping to mainstream demands. They have the nerve to pursue something personal, something special, something called a dream. Well, Craig Brewer is among these selfish men. And by making “Hustle & Flow,” Brewer chases his dream by making his protagonist chase his.

The movie’s about DJay (Terrence Howard), a pimp and a drug dealer in the Memphis ghetto. He lives with three whores: the pregnant Shug (Taraji P. Henson), white hooker Nola (Taryn Manning) and club stripper Lexus (Paula Jai Parker). Their lives are tough and DJay is uttering philosophies, perhaps a sign he’s on a road to midlife crisis. However, he crosses paths with Key (Anthony Andersen) – an old school friend who’s now a local music producer. They’s rewind to good ole days when DJay had rap potential and by conjuring the past, DJay’s dreams are reawakened. They collaborate on a demo tape and possibly hand it to rapper Skinny Black (Ludacris) who’s about to attend a nearby private party. This is DJay’s chance to shine. The timing’s right. His rhyming’s tight. And everybody is pitching in: the female hookers and Key’s light-skinned friend Shelby (DJ Qualls). It’s a team working on a dream.

“Hustle & Flow” has one of the strongest ensembles of 2005. The relatively unknowns among the cast are astounding finds. Henson, Manning, and Parker who play the three hookers notably shine in their own heartbreaking scenes. And for those actors I recognized, it’s here where they showcase their best work to date. Terrence Howard truly deserves his Oscar nomination. As DJay the pimp, Howard doesn’t skimp on emotions. He acts with a strong gut and a heavy heart. And who knew that Anthony Anderson, losing some pounds of comedy, totally soars in a toned-down dramatic role? Who knew.

What I also like about the movie is its keep-it-real manner. It has a real sense of its place and a credible perception of its inhabitants. Even the story is quite down-to-earth. When the movie hits its high notes, it comes off as neither rambunctious celebration nor a mawkish fest. DJay, and the movie for that matter, is so focused in his/its goal that he/it almost keeps wild emotions in check. It’s admirable how the story builds and its ascent is slow but sure.

I admit I’m a sucker for inspirational films, as long as they’re not manipulative. And just like 2004’s Baadasssss!, it just seems to be more special when it’s an indie. The filmmaker has to seriously haul ass to get this movie made and get it out there. And somehow that is reflected in “Hustle & Flow.” If you look at big budget films like “Cinderella Man” which shares some underdog themes, it lacks the muscle and blow of “Hustle & Flow.”

Grade: A

CAST
Terrence Dashon Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, Paula Jai Parker, Elise Neal, DJ Qualls, and Ludacris
Screenplay by
Craig Brewer
Directed by
Craig Brewer
Rated R for sex and drug content, pervasive language and some violence
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