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flick pick | Hustle & Flow 2005
Directed + written by: Craig Brewer
Starring: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, Taraji P. Henson, DJ Qualls
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:  feel-good
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: ½/5 

Plot synopsis Djay spends his days and nights working the streets of Memphis, pimping his "primary investor" Nola, taking cuts from surly lap-dancer Lexus, taking care of his third girl, Shug, who's about to pop out a baby fathered by some unknown trick, and dealing drugs on the side. It's a hard-scrabble life but he's mostly scraping by all right; still, Djay hasn't managed to survive this long by being a fool, and as he gets older, he can't help thinking if maybe there isn't something better out there for him, as he hopes against all hope that this isn't all he'll ever amount to. In short, Djay's found himself smack dab in the midst of a genuine mid-life crisis. Seeing the success of local boy rapper Skinny Black, he's begun nursing musical dreams of his own; as he tinkers away on a dinky old Casio keyboard (acquired in a drug barter with a desperate client), he thinks that hip hop could be his ticket out of this life. So when he bumps into his old classmate Key, who's now producing records for church choirs, Djay sees an opportunity. He persuades the semi-reluctant Key to join up with him (Key's worked hard to achieve a life of respectability, but in the end, he can't resist Djay's insistence that together they might be able to do something great) and the two set up a makeshift recording studio in the back of Djay's house. With the help of a dweeby keyboard whiz named Shelby and some surprisingly sultry vocals from quiet little Shug, they're soon laying down their first track. As the demo tape slowly comes together, everyone's excitement builds: the music's good, really good. Now, they just have to get the tape into the right hands. With Skinny Black himself set to make an appearance in town, Djay knows it's time to hustle.

Review Hustle & Flow is one of those rare movies that's much, much better than you'd expect it to be. Based on plot summary alone, it inevitably ends up sounding a little like an 8-Mile rip-off. But writer-director Craig Brewer, together with his very strong cast, manages to give us a movie that transcends tired old rags-to-riches, inner-city cinematic clichés. There's a grittiness to the story and the setting; Brewer doesn't pretty up the seamier sides of who Djay is, the pimping and prostitution and drug-dealing. Instead, he shows the ugliness kind of matter-of-factly, presenting Djay as neither a hero or a villain, just a guy trying to get by in the way that seems doable given his particular circumstances, which is exactly what makes the character compelling. Terrence Howard received a much-deserved Oscar nomination for his performance as Djay, but he's surrounded by terrific supporting actors as well, some of whom you might vaguely recognize from cheesy comedies -- like Anthony "Scary Movies 3 + 4" Anderson and DJ "Road Trip" Qualls -- and prove here how the right director and the right material can make all the difference in the world. (I particularly loved Taryn Manning as Nola and Taraji P. Henson as Shug, both of whom do a great job of showing how strength can come from the most surprising of places.) But in the end, it's the movie's genuine respect for the artistic process that really pulls you in. Watching Djay, Key and Shelby take a single dumb phrase scrawled in a tiny notebook and turn it into a song that makes you want to get up and wave your hands in the air is a billion times more satisfying than finding out whether or not Djay's music ever finds the financial success he's so hungry for. Yeah, I know, an inspirational flick about a wanna-be rap star pimp should be wrong on so many levels -- which makes it all the more amazing that Hustle & Flow feels so right. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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