Published Aug 01, 2005Riding a wave of critical acclaim, including the audience award at the Sundance Festival, the timing for this film seemingly couldn't be better. While southern hip-hop has yet to relinquish its stranglehold on mainstream hip-hop, little of this scene has been documented on the cinematic front.
Set against the gritty backdrop of Memphis, writer/director Craig Brewer's tale centres on DJay (Terrence Howard), a pimp so low on the pecking order he doesn't even have air-conditioning in his car. In a self-described "mid-life crisis," DJay sets about reviving his once promising rap career with the ultimate goal of slipping the fruits of his labour to local boy done good Skinny Black (Ludacris).
The creation of the songs for DJay's demo in the makeshift studio in the home he shares with his hookers provide some of the most compelling scenes in the movie. Old school mate Key (Anthony Anderson) and stock boy Shelby (DJ Qualls) make unlikely allies for Howard's convincing rap skills, creating sonically authentic ditties with titles like "Whoop That Trick" in these refreshing and finely edited sequences, demonstrating that this film is hardly the diluted southern version of 8 Mile.
However it's hardly radical either. The film's climactic scenes take place on the fourth of July while intimating that the main theme involves never giving up on your lifelong dreams. Additionally, the characterisation of the women in the film aspiring to this latter theme, despite laudable performances from Taryn Manning and Taraji P. Henson in particular, inextricably ties their burgeoning self-growth to their dependence on DJay and his casually misogynist songs.
Brewer clearly wants to present a warts and all portrayal while he urges the audience to root for DJay, a risky approach with a flawed protagonist. Luckily for him, Howard's towering performance negotiates this delicate terrain to authoritatively deliver a relevant and rarely told story on the screen. (Paramount)