Paramount Home Video
Cast: Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Premiere, Spots, Auditions, Extended Scenes, Music Video, Theatrical Trailer
From the opening moments of "Hustle And Flow" we realize that this film speaks in the language of the streets, sometimes brutal, sometimes crude but with a truth that lies underneath. It is undeniably gritty, honest and to the point. Stories best told with the lonely sound of Memphis freight trains echoing distantly in the surround speakers, in the front seats of beat up cars from the seventies. Some may not like the raw truth that this film tries to expose. The streets of Memphis can be as hard as any modern day city in America, but there is wisdom lying in the depths of human experience, and this film speaks the language with a lyricism and beauty rarely seen in modern film which many attempt, but few succeed. To watch these early films of Craig Brewer I have the same feeling I got the first time I watched "Mean Streets" and other early films of Scorsese or Tarantino. This man has a vision and a voice, and he is going to get his stories told. The language he speaks is the language of the blues, and it is not always pretty.
The film centers around Terrence Howard's amazing performance of Djay, a small time drug pusher and pimp. His primary workforce is a naive and troubled young woman named Nola (Taryn Manning), who turns tricks in cars as Djay ponders street wisdom and looks for a way out. He is providing for his pregnant girlfriend, Shug (Teraji P. Henson), who goes through life insecure, vulnerable, and scared. And who wouldn't be? Living the harsh reality of the tough Memphis neighborhoods where violence is a language unto itself, and while pregnant. He does his best to get by and it is obvious from the beginning that he has much charisma, and is looking for something better, and will do whatever it takes to break out of his current reality.
And let me say it again, his performance is simply stunning and this is a breakout performance like none I've seen in quite some time, Terrence Howard is a rising star to watch. In a key moment Djay trades some weed for an old beat up keyboard, and starts putting down some of his frustration, anxiety and anger onto a notepad of rap lyrics. Around the same time he runs into an old school friend, Key (Anthony Anderson), who has become a recording engineer for a local gospel group, and is invited to a listening session. During this time he has something like a religious experience as he listens to the beautiful music being recorded at a local church.
From here the film is simply a driven force for him to lay down some tracks with the help of Key, and a white boy with some serious energy and enthusiasm for grass and music, Shelby (DJ Qualls). The meager home he lives in, in a tough neighborhood, is transformed into a poor man's recording studio. They staple apple cartons to the walls and Djay has Nola turning tricks for a decent microphone from a pawn shop. It is the music they make in this run down house that is the essence of the film, it is a joy to watch it unfold and when you finally hear it, it seriously makes you want to stand up and cheer. It sounds great, and watching all of the misery that is underneath leading up to it makes a wonderful moviegoing experience unlike many.
The music sounds great, and of course the main theme song "It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp" won the Academy Award for Original Song in 2006, and let's not forget to mention Terrence Howard's nomination for Best Actor In A Leading Role. Everything comes together in their frantic attempt to make a great demo tape, and all of it has come together only to get a chance to have the music heard by a local rapper, Skinny Black (Ludacris), who has risen to superstardom and is coming back for a visit, the whole film is leading up to this moment, and that's where I will leave off, you simply have to watch it yourself, but let me say it's a real stunner. For those of you who are staying away from this project because they dislike rap or think it is an exploitation film like "The Mack", let me tell you, give it a chance.
Now, the transfer itself is kind of a different story. You see, it's got problems. I'm just not sure where the problems begin, is it with the way it was filmed or is it the transfer itself, are the flaws simply revealed limitations of the source brought about by the power of the new format, or is it a lackluster job? Whatever the case, this film will go next to "Black Snake Moan" in your collection but it simply doesn't hold a candle presentation wise. For starters, we do notice quite a bit of film grain, which anyone who has read my past reviews knows I don't mind in the slightest – after all it was shot in 16mm. Let's just say there is a lot of it, but this may be intentional on the filmmaker's part. I liked the movie so much I never found it distracting. There are other problems, though, from a video standpoint, we notice quite a few instances of edge enhancement, and many times we lose that pristine three-dimensional quality of other high def releases and the picture takes on a 2D look we see in a lot of HDTV broadcasts. Now, I'm still in the learning stages as far as video signals go, but this one is a real education in what can go wrong with a high def release, but still, it could be intentional, to capture the gritty seventies film essence of the project. I'm not sure, but it doesn't look great, that's for sure. But, of course it definitely beats the standard release, most of the time. This is not demo material, but to be fair many times the film looks great, it's just very inconsistent, that's all. The colors come across nicely, and the film is filled with a whole spectrum of reds and blues and is a joy to look at. I did expect better, though.
As for the sound, that is an area I actually had low expectations for, but was pleasantly surprised. It doesn't boast a PCM track or anything special like that, which is strange since the Three 6 Mafia did win that award I talked about earlier, still, the track shines in every way possible for a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. I say this because of the music, of course, it sounds wonderful and all of the bass and all of the sound effects and synthesizers come across very aggressively and when the music does finally happen, it sounds awesome. But even without the music, the film has a very wide sound field from the get go and I was impressed from the moment it started to when it ended. You will be surprised at how well it sounds.
The special features are mostly presented in standard definition wit the exception of two theatrical trailers, which are in HD. I guess that's worth something.
The commentary by writer /director Craig Brewer is just as enlightening and excellent as his commentary on "Black Snake Moan", it is more than obvious we are listening to someone who is totally engulfed in passion and loves his work. He is an artist, that much is noted, his subject matter is something he knows well, and listening to him is quite entertaining and always thought provoking, which is more than you can say for other commentaries where people actually fall asleep or answer cell phones; this is nothing like that. Turn it on loud and clean the house, or record it on a digital recorder as you sleep and listen to it on the commute to work.
'Behind The Hustle' is about thirty minutes long and includes interviews with all of the actors and actresses that helped make this project possible, and it is a real joy to watch. Craig Brewer admits his films border on exploitation, and states this is just the South he has lived and knows and wants to bring to the screen. This guy is the best thing to come out of Memphis since Big Star. It is obvious these actors and actresses, especially Terrence Howard, were a little hesitant at first because at its essence it is a pimp movie, and a drug dealing rapper is just the kind of role some actors would avoid. It is to the director's credit that he convinced these performers to take the leap and let it flow.
'By Any Means Necessary' is excellently titled, one of my favorite phrases actually. This featurette runs about 15 minutes and shows you just how hard it can be to get a movie about a pimp filmed in 2004-5. Fascinating and fast paced.
'Creating Crunk' is all about the music, and let me tell you, this director knows his music, and the music is the pulse of the film, so this is a must watch. We also have 'Paula Jay Parker Audition' (about 4 min.) and 'Ludacris And Terence Howard Rehearsal' (3 min.) which are fun to watch. The 'It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp' acoustic version is a novelty, and 'Memphis Hometown Premiere' shows us this wonderful city as it displays one of its strongest talents in recent memory. And that says a lot for a city that brought us Elvis, John Grisham, and please let's once again mention Big Star. We also have a couple of extended scenes that are definitely worth checking out. And I already mentioned the Theatrical Trailers in full HD, and I consider that a nice bonus, sincerely, they look great. Let's not forget the main menu, which I absolutely love, excellent, check it out.
All in all, my issues with the picture quality excluded, this is a great film, and one that the Blu-ray deals with very well. All of the features from the standard edition are ported over, and we have a couple of HD trailers and excellent sound to make the best release so far of this wonderful film. I said so far, perhaps it could be revisited at a later date and remastered. Either way, we have a real winner with this one and I strongly suggest you watch this film on any format.