Hustle & Flow(Paramount Home Entertainment, 1.10.2006)
Going into 2005, I never would have expected a volatile confrontation between characters played by rapper Ludacrius and relatively unknown Terrence Howard to perfectly crystallize the themes in a keenly observed multi-character study. That said, they pulled it off not only in Paul Haggis' topical Crash, but also in Craig Brewer's galvanizing Hustle & Flow. Plot-wise, Hustle & Flow concerns a philosophizing pimp inspired to enter the crunk game by a second-hand keyboard, a church singer's soulful spiritual, and the squalor surrounding him.
Thematically, though, the film is about several characters inertly floundering in the Memphis milieu, each finding their own voice as they coalesce into a kind of ragtag family. Late in Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, the despondent characters begin singing Aimee Mann's "Wise Up" as a sort of shared interior monologue. Here, as Howard's pimp intones "It Ain't Over for Me," the same logic applies, but the message is considerably more optimistic.
In his director's commentary, Brewer cites several inspirations for the film, ranging from Rocky to Purple Rain to Amadeus, but his reference to Alan Parker's The Commitments is most astute as each film follows impoverished characters finding themselves in the music-making process. In The Commitments, the destitute North Dublin backdrop is itself a character and here Brewer immerses us in south Memphis sordidness through backwater locations and the characters' thickly accented, dialect-inflected dialogue. Meanwhile, cinematographer Amy Vincent's supersaturated 16mm photography almost drips with sweat, vividly evoking a southern summer as she did in the iridescent Eve's Bayou.
Howard's dialogue is mostly a procession of soliloquies, which makes the seeming spontaneity he conveys all the more impressive as he both commands attention and seamlessly blends with the supporting cast. That cast, including Taraji P. Henson, Taryn Manning, Anthony Anderson, DJ Qualls, and Paula Jai Parker, is uniformly excellent and the unifying virtue they share with the film is that they never condescend to the characters or the material.
The disc features a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with the choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 sound. The film's torturous 4-year path to the big screen is recounted in the amiable featurette "By Any Means Necessary" (14 minutes) and provides more than ample fodder for Brewer's brimming commentary track.
"Behind the Hustle" (27 minutes) recounts how most of the actors relished playing against both type and stereotype, while "Creating Crunk" (13 minutes) details the involvement on the soundtrack of original Stax players who, along with Isaac Hayes (who appears in a memorable cameo), lend the film an authentic `70s vibe. There's also 5 minutes of footage from the film's Memphis premiere and 6 amusing MTV promotional spots. -- Colin Miller