Hustle & Flow (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

DJay is a small-time pimp eking out a meager living with a small stable of hookers and a street hustler's gift for selling his product. He is also a reflective man who realizes that he's nearly 40, and has created a life that is nothing like what he ever imagined for himself. He has a chance encounter with an old schoolmate who has become a small-time music producer, and together they conclude that DJay's verbal gifts could work in a hip-hop format. They create a makeshift studio, bring in some other people they know (including one of the hookers), and have soon created a demo tape from their hip-hop equivalent of a garage band. The next trick is to convince somebody with some influence to listen to the tape and promote it.

This is one of those films after which I sat back and thought, "I can't believe I liked that." Hell, I not only liked it, but I found it mesmerizing. Yet there's basically nothing in it that appeals to me. I'm a 57-year-old white man, and have no interest in your average "urban film" story about pimps, hos and gangsta rap. I don't mind hip-hop, but I'm no big fan either. Despite all of that, I genuinely liked this film, and that's a testament to its crossover appeal. It is not just targeted at people who love urban films and gangsta rap. First of all, it was written and directed by a white guy and it's basically a modernized version of an old-fashioned rags-to-riches yarn. Second, it's just plain entertaining. The acting is great, it's emotionally rich, it's surprisingly funny (very few reviewers noted this), and it offers an absolutely fascinating look at the detailed process of creating a song.

There is also a tremendous and completely unexpected musical bonus in Hustle & Flow. In addition to the hip-hop, there is a rendition of a spiritual in this movie by a classically trained mezzo soprano named Jennifer Bynum Green. Her solo, and Terrence Howard's reaction to her performance, are worth the price of admission alone. It's one of the best scenes in any 2005 movie. And, Lord, can that woman sing! Gives ya chills!

Although this film has a lot of the feel-good elements of a traditional rags-to-riches tale, it does not allow us to pull away from a realistic view of prostitution and poverty. By the end of the movie we are rooting for DJay to succeed, but that empathy has to be earned through the depth of our understanding of the man, because on the surface he is a complete lowlife, a pimp and drug dealer who exploits and abuses women. That the film succeeds at all, and it does, is a tribute to one of the most effective actors on the planet, Terrence Howard, who delivers DJay as another variation on his "soft-spoken yet filled with emotion" character, albeit a version less sinister than he has been asked to deliver in the past.

Terrence is now on the verge of superstardom, but back around 1998-2000, I was just about the only one who noticed what a great talent he was. He's been the best thing in a lot of bad movies. (Glitter, anyone?) Here's what I wrote about his performance in the silly film Big Momma's House:

"The strange counterpoint to all the slapstick is the always-effective Terrence Howard as a menacing bad guy. And I mean this is one scary man. He doesn't play the role for any laughs at all. No exaggeration, no comic effects, just plain realistic. He's tough and bad, and strangely charismatic. If I were casting a movie and I needed a criminal that would scare the hell out of the audience, this guy would be my choice, because his style is unlike anybody else's. He has kind of a soft manner, and he's handsome, but his insidious polish and good looks just make him more evil. He comes off as cold as ice, and you just know you better not cross him. I know one thing. I ain't writing any negatives about this man, just in case he reads it, because he scares my tired old white ass. I strongly recommend they give him an Oscar. Or even, if he asks menacingly, all the Oscars."



  • widescreen, anamorphically enhanced (16x9)
  • commentary by: writer-director Craig Brewer
  • Several featurettes: Behind the Hustle, By Any Means Necessary, Creatin' Crunk, Memphis Hometown Premiere


Taryn Manning: breasts from the side

Paula Jai Parker - see-through blouse

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: three and a half   stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4, Owen Gleiberman A-

  • Terence Howard was nominated for the Golden Globe for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Drama.

  • British consensus out of four stars: two and a half stars. Mail 6/10, Telegraph 6/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 4/10, Times 4/10, Sun 8/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 4/10, FT 4/10, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $3 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs are estimated around $15 million. It grossed $22 million theatrically, in a maximum of 1000 theaters.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a B. I gave that grade after careful consideration. If I read the summary of this film, I would skip it. Yet I really liked it. That surely sounds like a B by the definition above.

Return to the Movie House home page