Character actor Terrence Howard stars as D.Jay, a Memphis hustler trying to make ends meet by pushing the occasional bag of weed and pimping out a couple of girls who've been hanging off him. Director Craig Brewer goes to great pains to deglamorize the hip-hop image of the urban pimp. D doesn't have a fancy crib or wear a lot of bling. He lives in a hovel and spends his days sitting in a sweaty car under a bridge, trying to fast-talk passersby into sampling his wares, all the while trying to make some sense out of his life. D isn't particularly educated or cultured, but he knows that he wants something more. Just what that is, he isn't sure, but once he figures it out, he has enough drive to attack it with a ferocious determination.
When word comes that big-time rapper Skinny Black, a one-time hoodlum from the same background as D.Jay, will be returning to town, that sets off a new life's goal in D's mind. All these thoughts that have been spinning disorganized through his head can be put to paper and to music, and may just lead the way to a better life. At least that's the way D figures it. It's a million-to-one shot, but he's not going to let it pass him by. Enlisting the help of an old grade school friend (Anthony Anderson) who'd settled into a respectable domesticated life, and a white church kid (D.J. Qualls) who happens to be a huge hip hop fanatic, D sets his plan in motion. With limited resources at his disposal, he's got to record a killer track and find a way to slip it into Skinny Black's hand. It may be a pipe dream, but the dream is all that keeps him going.
What could have been a movie about unlikable people in an unpleasant milieu is transformed in Brewer's hands into a richly textured story about multi-faceted characters. The writer-director knows these people and has lived in this town, which he lovingly showcases by developing a palpable sense of atmosphere and local color. He lets us in on D's dream by showing us the hard work that goes into the creation of a good hip hop song, the difficulty of finding just the right repetitive hook that can put the rapper's "flow" (his stream-of-consciousness ramblings) into proper relief and make the whole thing feel structured and tight.
If Hustle & Flow sounds a bit like a Rocky-style tale of underdog victory and redemption, it is only on the most superficial level. At the same time, Brewer isn't afraid to show us the darker side of this lifestyle, the use and abuse of human beings, particularly evidenced by D's cold-hearted eviction of one of his girls who mouthed off one too many times. These aren't all lovable dreamers. They can also be petty, ignorant, and cruel. But they're vivid, real, and never less than interesting. It's a terrific film, worthy of its acclaim.
The HD DVD:
The disc's main menu is stylish but replays the "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp" theme song in a loop, which is kind of annoying. If you should pause or fast-forward/rewind the movie during playback, a timeline meter will appear on screen to tell you how far along you are.
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc is a Combo release that specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The movie was shot on 16mm film and has a very grainy, stylized appearance with a strong '70s vibe. Contrasts are slightly pumped up, colors are vividly saturated, and black levels run rich and inky. Camera focus is sometimes erratic (especially during night scenes, where the film stock didn't have enough latitude), but the picture has very good sharpness and detail for the style of the film. The grain is properly digitized and compressed, and does not look like video noise, as happens in many other disc transfers. Viewers expecting a squeaky clean digital presentation will likely be disappointed, but the grain is clearly used deliberately to give the image a gritty texture, and it's essential to the tone and mood of the story. The movie won a cinematography award at Sundance, and frankly I think the HD DVD looks great. It has a rich film-like appearance. This is the disc I plan to pull off the shelf to demonstrate why grain isn't always a bad thing.
The Hustle & Flow HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
Subs & Dubs:
Recycled from the DVD are:
Despite my initial reservations, Hustle & Flow is a movie that really lives up to the hype around it. The HD DVD has a video transfer that faithfully reproduces the look of the film, whether everyone will appreciate that or not. The disc also has excellent sound and some pretty good bonus features. Highly Recommended.