Title: Hustle & Flow
Genre: Crime, Drama, Musi
Director: Craig Brewer
Screenwriters: Craig Brewer
Starring: Terrence Howard, Ludacris, Anthony Anderson
Hustle & Flow is an engaging film, the consummate crowd-pleaser, and until it tips its hand in its last scenes, it seems to be intriguing in other ways, too. A film’s attitude toward its characters often determines a great deal, but Craig Brewer’s screenplay remains on the sidelines until the 11th hour, for better or worse — mostly better, since when we do find out just what Brewer thinks of his protagonist, we’re left with an unpleasant aftertaste. This particular crowd-pleaser has some moral issues it still needs to work out.
This is part of that formidable legion of movies about following one’s dreams, overcoming the odds, and “making it” with moxie, determination and talent. The difference is — or at least seems to be — that the primary dreamer in Hustle & Flow is not really a good man, not necessarily someone we see as deserving of fulfillment. For the vast majority of the film, this creates a massively interesting push-and-pull: the conventions of the genre, which Brewer seems to be sticking to at least perfunctorily, urged me to root for the wannabe rapper, busting rhymes in his makeshift home studio, while the rational part of my mind demurely suggested that perhaps there are better candidates for fame and fortune.
The aptly named DJay (Terrence Dashon Howard) is a pimp and a drug dealer, living with a stripper and two of his hookers, one of whom is pregnant. At one point, he throws the stripper out into the street, literally, along with all her stuff and her baby, with nowhere for them to go. As this happens fairly early in the film, we expect kindness to win out, and him to open the door and let them back in, but no: there’s no forgiveness or mercy, or much compassion.
Further examples leave little doubt that DJay may be a lot of things, but he is not a good man: selfish and opportunistic, he is kind and encouraging to people when he needs them (as in when he needs the pregnant Shug (Taraji P. Henson) to provide the hook for his would-be single) and ignores them when he doesn’t. Possessed of a fierce temper, he flies into a rage when things don’t go his way, and an admittedly cruel but altogether expected act at the end of the film motivates a brutal beating.
The fascinating thing is that people fall for this, and Shug turns into DJay’s passionate admirer, as does Nola (Taryn Manning), a hooker whom DJay woos with pseudo-philosophical speechifying, all the while mercilessly taking advantage of her. Late in the film, there’s a shot of the stripper DJay threw out earlier, looking despondent as if what happened were her fault.
This is sufficiently interesting to make Hustle & Flow an unrelentingly compelling experience, but the conclusion threw me for one hell of a loop. The movie not only forgives DJay his transgressions but ignores them entirely, ending on a triumphant note neither it nor its protagonist has earned. It is enough to suggest that there was never so much as a twinge of irony to Brewers’ going through the genre motions with an all-in-all despicable main character. Is it true? Am I just being judgmental? See the movie, and let me know.