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The Independent Critic

Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson, Taryn Manning, Chris Bridges
Craig Brewer
Rated R
118 Mins.
Paramount Classics/MTV Films
 "Hustle & Flow" Review 
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Everybody gotta have a dream...
"Hustle & Flow" is an unexpectedly powerful film, reminiscent of films such as "8 mile" and "Baby." Having won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, "Hustle & Flow" is now hitting the theatrical circuit with a focus on independent theaters.

In a world where most African-American themed films are stereotypical crap, it's refreshing to see an urban, gritty drama that remains true to its characters and allows them to play more than just one note in the process.

Terrence Howard, coming fresh off a wonderful performance in "Crash", proves himself an up and coming actor with this magnificent, multi-layered portrayal of a pimp named DJay who dreams of being a rapper. Howard could have easily let this role become a cliche', however, he adds so many deeper dimensions to DJay's characterization that at the same time one is repulsed by his narcissistic behaviors it's still nearly impossible not to root for him. DJay is clearly trapped in a lifestyle that bothers him on some level, BUT he also clearly embraces the freedom, money and control it gives him. Indeed, DJay's rapping seems to be birthed out of more his need for life than it is for any "gangsta" desires.

Proving once again that he's far more than a comic actor (and actually he's never much proven to be a comic actor), Anthony Anderson comes off with a marvelous companion effort here as Key. Taryn Manning, however, as one of DJay's key ladies is clearly overwhelmed by the material here and her performance comes off as underwhelming and, quite often, emotionally detached.

Chris Bridges, (Ludacris, for all you rap fans), shows up here in one of the film's scenes towards the end that doesn't quite ring as realistic...yet, he offers a nice showing in his second film in a row with Howard.

Interestingly, it was during this film that Anderson ran into his temporary legal troubles and was arrested (along with the film's assistant director) for sexual assault. The charges against both were dropped. "Hustle & Flow" was financed by filmmaker John Singleton, and its rights acquired for a Sundance record $9 million.

As written and directed by Craig Brewer, "Hustle & Flow" is definitely cliche ridden, at times, in the storyline. Let's face it...we've seen the gritty, urban drama before...the Black man who wants to get out of the streets and uses music to do it. Yet, the film succeeds because its characters are developed so well. Thus, a cliche' ridden storyline is actually enhanced significantly by the power of the characters in the story.

The cinematography is wonderful, and generally Brewer paces the film quite nicely. The score is a perfect accompaniment and production design fits the gritty atmosphere well.

While not a perfect film, "Hustle & Flow" is worth seeing if only for the performance of Terrence Howard. He may not be on your "Best Actor" lists just yet, but he's giving more and more reasons why he should be. With a touch of tenderness, remarkable focus, brutal reality and extreme authenticity, Howard has created a character that commands your attention and stays with you long after you leave the theater.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic