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Hustle & Flow
At various points in Fade to Black, last years stellar concert
film documenting Jay-Zs sold-out show at Madison Square Garden, Jay breaks away from
the concert buildup to provide some background information.
He goes back through some of the recording process for his last LP The
Black Album. In one outstanding
scene, he visits megastar producer Timbaland in his Miami Beach studio, to dig up some
inspiration. Planted behind his keyboard, Timbaland test-drives some of his recent
creations for a decidedly less-than-impressed Jigga-man. Then
comes the plaintive synth loop that will eventually become Dirt on Your
Shoulders. Jays eyes start to glow
like a madmans and his Rain Manhis term for the flow he conjures
up when the right beat dropscomes out. Its
a memorable and highly entertaining example of the creative process at work.
In its best moments, the new fiction film Hustle & Flow taps into this frenzied energy. The story of a Memphis flesh-hustler crossing over into
rap, Hustle and Flow gets so much of the rhythms and feel of the Dirty South
right, it can be forgiven for its occasional missteps. Terrence
Howard stars as DJay, a northside pimp fed up with, as he puts it, trying to squeeze
a dollar out of a dime. He meets up with
Key (Anthony Anderson), a court recorder who longs to open his own studio. Before long, theyre stapling egg cartons to
the walls of D-Jays henhouse for a little ghetto soundproofing.
As DJay, Howard gives an explosive
performance. Hes coiled and hungry,
exhausted by his life on the street but not afraid to resort to the old hustle when his
backs against the wall. He steels himself
for meeting Ludacris Skinny Black, a former Memphis thug turned crunk sensation, the
way he would any trick. Neophyte director
Craig Brewer, a Memphis native, pushes the gritty, grimy, sweat-stained fabric of his
hometown to the forefront. Reflective of the
films roots in blaxploitation, Brewer hits a couple of 70s filmmaking beats, like
the freeze-frame opening with the copyright year stamped beneath the title.
The film balances its seriousness with humor, a credit to the gifted
performers in the supporting roles. A career
comedian with a lifetimes worth of unfunny movie appearances (Malibus Most Wanted, Kangaroo Jack), Anderson is toned down here. Taryn Manning (8 Mile) plays a
vulnerable white hooker whose relationship with DJay grows in terms of respect and trust
as the movie progresses. As pregnant hooker
Shug, Taraji P. Henson has a wide-eyed sweetness; her reaction upon singing the hook in
their first track is heartbreaking. The
films details are rendered realistically, but its not above breeziness with
respect to street credthe nerdy white pianist (DJ Qualls) Key brings in to make
beats turns out to have the most innate hip-hop sensibilities of all of them.
With a ferocious lead performance and a beat-heavy soundtrack, Hustle &Flow has a number of things to
recommend it. While it slips into
sentimentality occasionally, the film seems aware that, at heart, its basically a Rocky for the hip-hop underclass. The beauty of Hustle
& Flow is that it manages to be so much more than that as well.
- Jesse Paddock