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Hustle & Flow
Review written by: Alex Sandell

This movie broke my heart like a 20 piece McNugget, with a McRib chaser.  Terrence Howard as DJay is in pursuit of a dream.  The movie shows just how far someone will go to find the rainbow connection.  And it shows the sadness and desperation of a man who's spent a lifetime having his dreams stomped on and taken away, one after the other.

I've been there.  I am there.  DJay is going through a premature midlife crises.  He doesn't know why he's here.  He doesn't know the point of his existence.  He works as a pimp, but is tired of hustling.  He wants to flow.  He wants to be a world-famous rapper.  His father died at DJay's age.  This sends him into tears and lights a fire up under his ass.  He wants more. 

DJay's in love with two women.  The woman pregnant with his child (whose look of elation when she hears her remixed voice on a track is the most powerful acting moment of the entire film, which is saying something in a movie where the acting is near flawless) and a determined whore named Nola who works for him.  D doesn't cheat on his wife (girlfriend? I never quite caught that.) with Nola, but she's definitely a large part of his life, and even when he's using her, you can see that he couldn't have done any of it without the fine lady of the streets.   

Although Terrence Howard is getting all the respect when it comes to award nominations (he does do a great job), it is Taryn Manning as Nola that won my heart.  Her performance is the most sentimental and believable of the year.  When she says that everyone has something to do, outside of her, I had trouble not breaking down in a public theater.  When she's asked by DJay what it is she wants, and she says she doesn't know, but she wants to do something that is special to her -- something that is her own -- I said "fuck it" and cried like a bitch.   

When DJay trades her for a $250 pawn shop microphone, Nola's anger is justified and palatable.  It's a powerful scene of frustration, hopelessness, dejection and disappointment that should get her nominated for every "Best Supporting Actress" award available.  You can feel her anger, and you want to kill DJay for making her feel so cheap.  But only temporarily.

Nearly everyone in this film has a sympathetic side.  They all have a background, and a reason for behaving as they do.  Only Ludacris -- cast for MTV fans -- has a one-dimensional character.  He's the "big bad," and it's unfortunate, because he drags the film down before the credits roll. 

It's not that he does a poor job acting, but his character is shit.  He doesn't fit into the realistic world of grit, sweat, sex and faith that came before his lousy washed-up rapper of a character.  When he finally appears on screen during the Independence Day party, the movie falls apart.  It goes from a "Paramount Classics" film to an "MTV" movie, in a matter of minutes. 

Until then, it's gangbusters ("gangbusters" isn't exactly the right word to give me streed cred., is it?).  Who woulda thunk we'd get an Academy Award worthy performance out of Anthony Anderson?  His character is a man who's made it financially, but is as empty as DJay, inside.  He held so much promise, but everything's fallen apart and domestic life isn't serving him well, even though his wife is a sweetheart.

Although he lowers himself to cliché by the end of the film, Craig Brewer has written a powerful character piece with fictional individuals who come to life on the screen, and he has reached into his guts and found the anatomy of a dream.  It's not just DJay's dream.  It's everyone involved with DJay.  They're all dreaming, and they're all hanging their hopes on him. 

A dream is as bloody and awful as it is inspiring and admirable.  Having a dream isn't easy, and Brewer obviously remembers that (or tapped into a reality, as a writer, that he may have never experienced).  Having a dream can be ugly, but if it's the only thing you have to hold onto, losing it would be even worse.  Losing it would be to sell your soul.

Hustle & Flow believes in the dream.  Until the last 20 minutes, it has the nerve to show the misery of keeping the faith.  Yes, in those final minutes the film crumbles.  It's like Brewer, or someone else involved with the film, felt there had to be gunplay.  Someone had to take this beautiful film and paint the screen red for the tweens in the audience. 

Should the film be avoided for its pandering?  Not a chance!  It's worth watching to see this off-the-hook ("off-the-hook" heh, my street cred's back) cast, to hear the slamming music and to keep that spark you have buried inside alive.  The one that continues to burn, reminding you that you can be so much more than what you currently are, if you never give up on yourself and keep believing at all fucking costs that you are worthy of the person you could be, if you stopped being scared of the fantasy and followed your dreams. 


There's nothing this movie critic likes more than discussing movies with fellow film fanatics. He's even getting better at replying. Agree? Disagree? Doesn't matter. Let's talk film! Email Alex!

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