The Films of Craig Brewer
The Poor and Hungry
Hustle & Flow (February 24/07)
Anchored by Terrence Howard's jaw-droppingly phenomenal performance, Hustle & Flow comes off as a fiercely original, thoroughly engaging effort that firmly establishes Craig Brewer as a major presence within the filmmaking world. Howard stars as Djay, a sleazy pimp/drug dealer who decides he wants something more for his life and subsequently embarks on a quest to become a rapper (Taryn Manning and Taraji P. Henson costar as helpful whores, while Anthony Anderson and DJ Qualls pop up as Djay's musical collaborators). Brewer has infused Hustle & Flow with a gritty authenticity that quickly proves impossible to resist, and there's little doubt that - if nothing else - the film succeeds solely as a compelling portrait of Memphis' seedy underbelly. Brewer's ability to elicit effective work from even the most minor of cast members is remarkable, as underwhelming actors such as Anderson and Qualls turn in surprisingly convincing performances (there's never any question that Howard owns the movie, however). And viewers with little appreciation for rap music will find it difficult to resist the exhilarating sequences in which Djay and his crew produce songs from the ground-up, with the creation of "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" (which deservedly went on to win an Oscar) an obvious highlight. Even the inclusion of a few contrived third-act plot twists can't damper Hustle & Flow's overall effect, and there's certainly no denying the film's status as one of the most ingratiating inspirational tales to come around in a while.
Black Snake Moan
Though saddled with an admittedly risque premise - a retired bluesman (Samuel L. Jackson) chains a young woman (Christina Ricci) to his radiator in an effort to cure her of her "wickedness" - Black Snake Moan quickly reveals itself to be a compelling, surprisingly non-expoitative piece of work that benefits from the uniformly superb performances and writer/director Craig Brewer's distinctive sense of style. As was the case with Hustle & Flow, the filmmaker has done a fantastic job of infusing the movie's small Southern community with a real sense of authenticity - ensuring that even the most periphery of figures receives a healthy dose of character development (ie John Cothran Jr's local preacher and S. Epatha Merkerson's kindly pharmacist). Of course, there's little doubt that the film's success rests entirely on the shoulders of Jackson and Ricci - with the two stars effectively (and seemingly effortlessly) transforming characters that could've come off as one-note into fully-fleshed out creations. And although Black Snake Moan is never quite as engrossing as one might've expected, the movie is consistently entertaining and undoubtedly a fitting follow-up to Hustle & Flow.
Directed by Craig Brewer, Footloose follows rebellious city kid Ren MacCormack (Kenny Wormald) as he arrives in a small Midwestern town and immediately begins shaking things up - with Ren's ongoing efforts at overturning a ban on public dancing bringing him closer to the town minister's (Dennis Quaid's Shaw Moore) fetching daughter (Julianne Hough's Ariel). Filmmaker Brewer, working from a script cowritten with Dean Pitchford, does a superb job of immediately getting the proceedings off on the right foot, as the film opens with an upbeat, spirited sequence that both establishes the storyline and pays homage to the original film. From there, Footloose unfolds in a manner that will certainly seem familiar to viewers familiar with its predecessor - as Brewer and Pitchford replicate many of the beats and plot twists contained within the 1984 Kevin Bacon starrer. There's little doubt that Footloose benefits substantially from the ongoing emphasis on musical and dance numbers of an irresistibly energetic nature, with the film's affable vibe perpetuated by the unexpectedly charismatic work from both Wormald and Hough (and it doesn't hurt, either, that the pair share a great deal of palpable chemistry together). It's only as the movie charges into its uneven midsection that one's interest begins to wane, as the simple narrative is increasingly bogged down with interludes of a decidedly needless variety (eg the bus race) - with the film's overlength ultimately preventing it from becoming the propulsive piece of work Brewer has clearly intended. Footloose ultimately does recover in its final half hour, though, as Brewer offers up a handful of genuinely engrossing moments (eg Ren's impassioned speech) in the buildup to the expectedly vivacious finale - which effectively cements the movie's place as an uneven yet sporadically enthralling modern remake.