Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
8 Mile was a cinematic sidecar, incapable of movement without the Eminem album it was hitched to. If its success is to be commended for anything beyond good synergy and great rhymes, it’s clearing a theatrical path for Craig Brewer.
Brewer’s dramas about improved living through music — Black Snake Moan and 2005’s Hustle and Flow — chose discomfiting, winding routes of passion and tenacity over convoluted melodrama.
DJay (Oscar-nominated Terrence Howard) is a Memphis pimp of modest stature refashioning himself as a rapper with the help of a producer (Anthony Anderson), a beat peddler (D.J. Qualls), top earner Nola (Taryn Manning) and unrequited love Shug (Taraji P. Henson).
Of all the exuberantly built-up beats, Henson’s beautiful reaction to unexpectedly forming the nucleus of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” gave Hustle its soul and won that song an Oscar. Voters no doubt responded to Shug’s shock, surprise and elation at taking part in something bigger than herself.
More than DJay making it, Hustle is about him accepting that actualization must ripple through the ladies around him. (None really wants prostitution, and Manning becomes a wrecking-ball business partner.) But DJay is a pimp whose aggressive petulance occasionally lapses into verbal violence and bad decisions.
Shrinking studio margins are likely to diminish such risky, rough-edged films about music. Brewer is now attached to a long-gestating Footloose remake, giving said remake its only reason to exist. If Brewer can give it half of Hustle’s burning focus, intensity, ruthlessness and triumph, cut loose, indeed.