If I were to describe the premise for Hustle and Flow to you there's no way in the world you'd think "Wow, that's an amazing movie". I've lost track of the number of films that tell the story of a down-on-his-luck wanna-be rapper who thinks that if he gets his 'one shot' all will improve. While 8-mile may not have been a masterpiece it did seem to provide some sort of crescendo to this particular style of film. Just when you think the genre has jumped the shark, that this story simply couldn't be told any better or any fresher, in comes Hustle and Flow and turns everything upside down.
Focusing on the life and times of hustler 'D Jay', Hustle and Flow meanders through the rougher side of Memphis into the world of backseat hookers, seedy strip clubs, and mini mart drug deals. This isn't a pretty world, but writer/director Craig Brewer doesn't go out of his way to show how ugly or how hard it is. As with many things in the film, things just are, and Brewer gives the audience credit for recognizing that life on the streets isn't wine and roses. This sense of reality permeates the entire film with scene after scene of dialogue that sounds like how people genuinely talk. While I can't speak to the black experience, I can say this is the first film in a long time that seemed to portray real black characters and not black caricatures. A prime example of this are the scenes between D Jay and Skinny Black (played by notable rapper Ludacris). In lesser hands these scenes would have been something closer to MTV Cribs than the complex and intertwining interplay we see on screen. The magic of Brewer's screenplay is how it seems to recede into the background, creating an environment where things feel more like they're happening now, on screen, rather than coming from a script.
The undeniable star of Hustle and Flow is Terrence Dashon Howard, who clearly understands that the way to turn D Jay from a good character to a phenomenal one is to always be one step on the side of underplaying it. Howard is consistently fantastic throughout the entire film and even does a great job singing the vocals to the raps in the film.
Howard is backed by a solid group of supporting actors and actresses including: Taryn Manning, who gives a dimensionality to her role as Nola, a poor white trash hooker in constant struggle with her worth and identity; Taraji P. Henson, who is superb as Sugar, a pregnant hooker whose hopes and dreams quietly parallel D Jay's; and, Anthony Anderson as Key, whose dreams of becoming a record producer were traded in for a much simpler and ultimately unfulfilling life. Anthony Anderson needs to get big kudos here for probably the biggest career makeover of an actor yet. Anderson often appears in throwaway films like Kangaroo Jack and See Spot Run, but and in Hustle and Flow he steps up and shows that he's got the chops to be in much, much better films. Also of note is Isaac Hayes who has a relatively small role, but does a lot with it.
There's no other way to put it - Hustle and Flow is simply an amazing film. Although it's telling a familiar story, it does so in a way which is so real, so present and so genuine it's almost impossible not to get swept up by it.