A gritty fairy tale of dreams deferred, HUSTLE & FLOW infuses the torpor of the Memphis ghetto with electric tension. Terrence Howard delivers the performance of a lifetime as DJay, a pimp and drug dealer eking out an existence with his three whores, one of whom, Shug (Taraji P. Henson, HOLLA), is hugely pregnant. Nola (Taryn Manning, 8 MILE) turns tricks from the backseat of DJay's beater, while Lexus (Paula Jai Parker, LOVE CHRONICLES), the hustler's high-maintenance girlfriend, strips in a cellar-like club. DJay's dissatisfaction is increasing as he senses that life has nothing more in store for him, but a chance encounter with an old school friend, Key (Anthony Anderson, KING'S RANSOM), reignites his musical aspirations. Key is a small-time recording artist, and DJay, armed with a notebook full of lyrics, pays him a visit at home, much to the displeasure of Key's prim and proper wife (Elise Neal, PLAYA'S BALL). Initially dubious, Key agrees to partner with DJay after hearing his stuff, and the two build a makeshift recording studio in DJay's back room, enlisting the aid of a skinny white boy (DJ Qualls) with an unlikely talent on the drum machine. There unfolds the triumphant meat of the story, where, against all odds--and after a few bouts of infighting--everyone pitches in to cut DJay's crunk demo.
Essentially a rags-to-riches story, director Craig Brewer avoids the saccharine through his achingly human portrayal of the characters. DJay is fraught with an undeniable misogyny that colors his otherwise sympathetic angst, and Howard portrays that complexity with grace and soul. With John Singleton in the producer's chair, HUSTLE & FLOW strikes an unprecedented balance between feel-good fare and unstinting urban drama, in what amounts to a powerful depiction of the pain and poignant struggle of those who populate this often-misinterpreted milieu.