Judge Ryan Keefer sprained his ankle coming home the other night from a concert, and as you all know, limpin' ain't easy.
Our review of Hustle And Flow, published January 18th, 2006, is also available.
"I mean, we got everything we need right here. And all this stuff in this…this little-bitty space, man, it just looks so much bigger now. I'm here trying to squeeze a dollar out of a dime, and I ain't even got a cent, man."
Hustle and Flow is a breakout film for many different reasons. It introduced the world to the directing efforts of Craig Brewer. This film, combined with Crash, made 2006 the year of Terence Howard, and brought him to more notoriety. And, for better or worse, it's given the world an unlikely Oscar winner with the rap group Three Six Mafia, which earns them lifetime crunk, or whatever the term is. And in high definition, is Hustle and Flow the shizzle?
Facts of the Case
Written and directed by Craig Brewer (Black Snake Moan), DJay (Howard) is a low-rent pimp/drug dealer living in Memphis, who has dreams of making it big. I know, we all do. He sees an old friend in Key (Anthony Anderson The Departed), who records church choir performances. In between his meeting with Key and a secondhand keyboard he receives from one of his clients, he has a bit of a revelation. He wants to put together a rap demo tape to give to a local rapper named Skinny Black (Ludacris, Crash), who is coming back to Memphis for the Fourth of July. Along with a white hooker in Nola (Taryn Manning, Cold Mountain) and a pregnant, "on leave" hooker, Yevette (Elise Neal, Mission to Mars), DJay tries to crystallize a moment on tape so Skinny will help get DJay fame and success.
It really is enjoyable to watch a film where the cast's collective performances are for champagne tastes despite being on beer budgets. Everyone goes for broke and every performance is heartfelt and earnest, from even the most unlikely sources. I'm personally used to Anderson's comic work, but he does a great job in this supporting role. Manning and Neal put in some great effort into their roles, especially Neal, who basically can't leave the house but she acts and sings amazingly well. DJ Qualls, the skinny kid in Road Trip, even provides some capable dramatic effect as Shelby. But the film rests on Howard's shoulders, and he does an amazing job. In watching the supplements for the film, it was amazing that not only did Howard resist the role at first, but Brewer painstakingly tried to make the film with Howard as the lead, and was rejected countless times by big studios, who wanted to recast the role. And now that the film has been in circulation for a little while, it's hard to see anyone else in the role. Even when circumstances arise that hinder DJay's likability, one has to respect his single-minded determination to make sure his dream is realized. Never would I thought I'd love a pimp who smacks pregnant women and throws baby mamas out of his house, but Terrance Howard pulls it off with aplomb.
Along with the great performances, the way that Brewer is able to shape the story is another commendable task. He loves music, and I'd say that along with Tarantino, he manages to capture music on film, either set to a scene or right in the middle of it, like very few. When DJay, Shelby and Key manage to develop their first collaboration, a small hook for the big song, you are sucked into the adrenaline of creativity, made even more visceral when they end the hook, and everyone is winding down from being "in the moment." Shelby says something at the end of the scene that is funny, but at the end of something so powerful, you could pretty much say anything and have it sound silly. There's nothing quite like putting a piece together, musically or otherwise, and transitioning out of that frame of mind will probably be academic.
From a technical perspective, the VC-1 encoded 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer doesn't really stand out in high definition compared to other titles. That's largely due to the low production budget, but the film grain really does take away from the overall sharpness of the image, and it's a distraction on some close up sequences. The Dolby Digital-Plus soundtrack does make the crunk sound good and all, but with a film as musically active as this, I was looking to have my fillings rattle when the songs were being put down, and it didn't happen either. I was both surprised and disappointed by the sound of Hustle and Flow.
Extras wise, everything that's on the standard edition disc comes on the HD DVD version. Brewer's commentary is the big piece, and Brewer is an excellent commentary subject. He discusses how the story came about and how the production transpired. In this (and in Black Snake Moan) it's clear that Francis Ford Coppola is a direct inspiration for him. The fact that Brewer can do a pretty good impression of Hayes doesn't hurt either, and he goes on similar tangents about music, among those mentioned are Purple Rain and Otis Redding, and that's not even discussing the Memphis musicians that contributed to the score. His recollection of the production is actually well detailed and worth the time if you enjoyed the movie. "Behind the Hustle" is your typical making of look at the film's production from read through to premiere. The cast and crew discuss the film and what drew them to it, and the struggle to get the film realized is discussed also. The film's producer, John Singleton (Higher Learning), discusses the role he played in pulling the film together. I like the making of featurettes in Brewer's films because as opposed to other features where it's a whole superficial mutual admiration society, you can tell these people are genuine fans of each other's work. There's a lot of audition and rehearsal footage of the cast mixed into the piece also. "By Any Means Necessary" is a nice peek into where the film's concept stood before it became a reality. Brewer also discusses his father's death in the context of where his career was before Hustle saw the light of day. It really does help provide inspiration for aspiring filmmakers to stick to their guns and see their visions out, and is worth watching. "Creatin' Crunk" is a look at how the music came together, and starts with a funny country version of the noteworthy song from the film. But it becomes a mini-history lesson of Memphis music with composer Scott Bomar. Following that is some audition footage with Ludacris, Parker and Howard, then some extensions onto two scenes from the film. But the extensions are basically unshot and from the table reads by the cast. An acoustic version of the song (which I mentioned earlier) is here, along with six TV spots and two trailers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Two things about the film for you to ponder. When you boil Hustle and Flow down to its basic element, it's about a protagonist who is looking to get the brass ring, and everyone around him discovers talents that they might not have known about before. So in terms of the basic story, it is a little bit conventional, it's approached in a different way. As to point two, I know and understand why Brewer formulated the ending the way that he did. But in seeing the film when it first came out on video, and again for this review, I still find a little bit too convenient for my tastes. There is a smaller scene that is actually better and I would have loved for the film to end that way without the scene preceding it, but this is an otherwise nice effort.
Sure, there's lot of profanity, and lots of pimps, and lots of ho's, but Hustle and Flow takes a historically unseeming or tacky character and transforms him into a charismatic figure that the audience can root for. The performances are all top shelf and Brewer has leveraged the success of this into subsequent projects centered in Memphis that deserve attention. If you haven't watched it by now, go rent it already! Although I wouldn't buy it for the high definition upgrade, if that's what you want to know.
Could DJay listen to this tape that the Court made awhile back? The court also goes by Heavy Gavel.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Writer/Director Craig Brewer
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