The idea of a soulful pimp as the hero of a movie will strike some viewers as objectionable and perhaps even repellent, but Terrence Dashon Howard's complex and fierce performance will challenge such easy moral decisions. DJay (Howard, Crash, The Best Man) hustles a small stable of whores, including corn-rowed Nola (Taryn Manning, A Lot Like Love). When he learns that former local rapper turned superstar named Skinny Black (real life rapper Ludacris) is coming back to town for the 4th of July, DJay teams up with a frustrated sound engineer (Anthony Anderson, Kangaroo Jack) and a geeky musician (DJ Qualls, Road Trip) to put together a demo tape that he hopes will be his ticket to fame and fortune. What's most impressive about Hustle & Flow is that it doesn't oversell its hero. DJay's aspirations are more economic than poetic--he's not out to create art, he just wants a better life. This lack of pretension allows the movie to capture a genuine sense of how creativity can improve people's lives, which surprises DJay as much as anyone. The movie's other strength is a keen eye for social behavior, in particular the ways in which DJay manipulates everyone around him. Howard, who's almost always stood out in every movie he's made, plays these scenes with what can only be called smooth desperation. The entire cast gives substantial performances, but it's Howard who drives the movie irresistibly forward. --Bret Fetzer
--This text refers to the DVD edition.