"Hustle & Flow" abounds with all the ingredients of a terrific popular entertainment. Writer-director Craig Brewer first of all cares deeply for his characters, with the result that each one emerges as a distinctive, involving individual, and this care extends from the film's casting down to such details as the gold teeth sported by one of its stars. Wrenching in its raw emotions, hilarious in its earthy humor yet subtle in myriad ways, "Hustle & Flow" catches life in a warm embrace, unafraid of sentiment but not looking away from some of the harsher realities of everyday existence. It's safe to say it's not like any other movie about a black pimp.
Terrence Howard's tough but reflective DJay is every bit as memorable as the fierce and flashy Max Julien was in "The Mack" (1973), one of the most popular yet serious pictures of the blaxploitation cycle, or Morgan Freeman as the most terrifying pimp imaginable in "Street Smart" (1987). "Hustle & Flow," however, is working on an entirely different level as it explores its simple, persistent theme: "Everybody needs a dream."
Caught up in an endless routine of driving around the seedier side of Memphis in search of clients with his two prostitutes -- there's a third at his shabby rented home, awaiting the imminent birth of his child -- DJay focuses on what he has to do to survive and take care of his women. But when he hears that platinum-selling rapper Skinny Black (Ludacris), a high school classmate, will be making a hometown Fourth of July visit at a club run by DJay's friend Arnel (Isaac Hayes, a real-life Memphis legend), DJay is made painfully aware of the loss of his dreams. Encountering a street character who insists on selling him a keyboard and running into old friend Key (Anthony Anderson), a sound engineer who always wanted to own a recording studio, DJay begins to consider that if Skinny Black could make it as a rapper, why couldn't he. Pretty soon DJay and Key are converting a room in DJay's house into a makeshift studio, and Key has enlisted the help of his church's pianist, Shelby (DJ Qualls), a skinny white kid with plenty of wit and talent.