As he is today, actor Terrence Howard was busy in 2004-05. He appeared in Paul Haggis's "Crash" as a TV director whose wife is assaulted by a police officer. He also had parts in two other high-profile movies, "Four Brothers" and "Get Rich or Die Tryin'". However, his best performance was in "Hustle & Flow", which utilized his winning exuberance to great effect. Howard is up for Best Actor in this year's Oscar race, and the signature song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" is up for Best Original Song.
The white Curtis Hanson, who directed the "white" "L.A. Confidential", enjoyed a lot of critical and commercial success with "8 Mile", which was based-on-the-true-story of a down-on-his-luck guy (Eminem) who uses rap to make it to the big time. Both "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" and "Hustle & Flow" have similar backstories. The white (Irish) Jim Sheridan usually directs white (Irish) movies, but he helmed "Get Rich or Die Tryin'", which was based-on-the-true-story of rapper 50 Cent's life. The white Craig Brewer wrote and directed "Hustle & Flow", which incorporates a lot of biographical details from Brewer's own life. Brewer isn't a rapper, but his movie's main character is a composite of things that Brewer saw or experienced.
Craig Brewer grew up in Memphis, and one day while driving through the city, he saw a black pimp driving an old Chevrolet Caprice. In the passenger seat was a white hooker, and the pimp was doing his best to sell the hooker to Brewer. This encounter led Brewer to create an imaginary story--what if the pimp was a smart, eloquent fellow with some musical talents? Thus, DJay (Howard) and his crew were born.
DJay "takes care of" Nola (Taryn Manning), Shug (Taraji P. Henson), and Lexus (Paula Jai Parker). Shug is pregnant by one of her clients, and she stays at home to take care of Lexus's son. One day, DJay meets a former schoolmate (Anthony Anderson), who takes him to a church choir session. The singing inspires DJay to write rap lyrics and to recruit his schoolmate to record a demo tape.
Despite being set in Memphis and being about music, "Hustle & Flow" never refers to Elvis Presley. This is just as well since Elvis isn't really a part of today's cultural landscape. Any mention of him in the movie would've been distracting.
The movie doesn't sugarcoat pimping and turning tricks, which is admirable and the appropriate thing to do. Unfortunately, DJay's quest is presented in such a positive light that the script glosses over the bad things that he does. In one scene, he tosses out Lexus and her son. We never find out what happens to them. In another scene, DJay selfishly forces Nola to sleep with someone so that he can get a free microphone. The microphone is purely for him, unlike the money that Nola makes (which at least helps feed her). While we see Nola blow up at DJay, later, everyone acts as if nothing happened.
The movie also fails to sustain the energy that is apparent in its first half. When DJay and his team first start putting their tracks together, it's very exciting and exhilarating watching the creative process come alive. However, as the movie progresses, it loses steam, and some music sessions and domestic scenes feel tired and rote.
The real reason to see "Hustle & Flow" is Terrence Howard. I didn't think that he was particularly convincing in "Crash", but with that movie, he was working with a lousy script. Here, Howard sells the material despite his character's flaws. In fact, Howard is so good that he makes it easy for viewers to overlook DJay's mean streak.
Despite the low-budget nature of the project, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen looks very impressive. "Hustle & Flow" doesn't have the polish and sheen of a mega-budget studio presentation, so the colors and the visual texture lack a certain "gloss". However, the print that was used for the video transfer was in great shape, so there are basically no instances of print damage. I didn't see compression or transfer problems, either.
Despite the fact that the movie is about rapping, the Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio track is mercifully free of continuously thumping bass. Bass is used only when necessary, though the audio is generally lively from the beginning of the movie to its end. The surrounds are used mostly for music, but they are frequently active.
You can watch the movie with a DD 2.0 surround English audio track.
Optional English subtitles as well as optional English closed captions support the audio.
This DVD offers quite a number of interesting bonus materials. First up is writer/director Craig Brewer's audio commentary. Brewer made a movie that drew extensively from his familiarity with a certain sub-culture in Memphis. Therefore, his remarks illuminate what a lot of people outside of Memphis would never know about the city.
"Behind the Hustle" is a featurette that focuses on what the cast members brought to the table. Most of it discusses how key Terrence Howard was to the movie. Although the featurette feels a little like a campaign ad for Howard's Oscar run, it's still pretty comprehensive in terms of highlighting how dedicated and talented all of the key actors were.
"By Any Means Necessary" is a behind-the-scenes look at the production process. Video interviews with producers John Singleton and Stephanie Allain reveal how much of a struggle it can be to get a movie made even with "big names" (Singleton and rapper Ludacris) attached to a script. "Creatin' Crunk" looks at the music contributions from rappers like Al Kapone.
"Memphis Hometown Premiere" has footage from the movie's special opening in its "hometown". There are six promotional spots that were either very short trailers or TV commercials.
Finally, there are previews for other Paramount titles, though you don't get the trailer for "Hustle & Flow".
There's nothing inside the keepcase other than the DVD.
"Hustle & Flow" is a technically impressive feature, and Terrence Howard delivers a great performance in it. Unfortunately, it has a rushed ending that feels clichéd (oh, oh, we gots gangstas shootin' at each othah) and too pat. Also, the movie is content to observe and to celebrate what its main character is doing. Therefore, it never really interrogates the destructive influence he has over other people. I'm not saying that the script should condemn DJay, but it shouldn't have lionized him so completely.