Hustle and Flow is an old fashioned underdog story told with verve and honesty. Terrence Howard delivers a remarkable performance as Djay, one reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky - and all the more impressive since he's portraying a fictional character.
Set in modern day Memphis, Djay lives as a pimp/ small time drug dealer. He wants a better life, best expressed in his philosophical opening speech. One day he meets a fledgling record producer Key (Anthony Anderson) who invites him to a gospel recording session at a church. Moved by the performance, Djay persuades Key work with him. Anderson matches Howard in every scene.
A makeshift studio is constructed in Djay's house. They create a few songs and you can feel the energy in the room. Unlike most music based films, Hustle & Flow does a great job of capturing the creative process.
The last act goes in an unexpected direction, at least from what one usually associates with "underdog" stories. Djay believes his success depends getting his demo tape over to a famous rapper from Memphis named "Skinny Black" (Ludicris). The final scenes almost feel like a separate movie.
On location shooting in Memphis added further authenticity. Strong supporting performances from Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, and D.J. Qualls save the film from being a mere formulaic Hollywood product. Howard earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. As writer and director, Craig Brewer brings the American South alive.