I've been meaning to write something about the two great performances Terrence Howard has turned in this year but have been waylaid by activity. I saw him on the cover of an entertainment magazine this week and figured I'd join the praise heaping.
Howard has given two of the fiercest performances I've seen this year in two of my favorite films of the year--Crash and Hustle and Flow. In Crash he was playing support in a stellar ensemble cast whereas in Hustle and Flow he was the lead and in virtually every scene. Both films show Howard as an actor to watch in the future.
I loved Crash. It's a rambling, multifaceted story set among a variety of people in Los Angeles (and can stand beside other great L.A. films with lots of characters such as Short Cuts and Magnolia of recent years) that tackles some tricky subject matter such as race and class. Howard plays a successful television director who has his outlook on who he is turned upside down when a racist cop (in a great role from Matt Dillon) accosts him and his wife late one night.
All of a sudden the director is thinking about his own "blackness" in the "white" world that he lives in and he explodes in a fit of rage, letting loose all the frustration and pain in a tense few moments that might get him killed.
It's a great performance that sees Howard stewing and boiling inside, just below the surface, waiting to unleash this frustration that is obviously tearing him up. In a film with a lot of great performances, Howard's might steal the show.
In Hustle and Flow, Howard taps into some of the same qualities--the frustration and anger--but gets to express them in completely different ways. He plays a small time pimp and drug dealer named DJay in a run-down section of Memphis. After running into a friend from high school who has some recording equipment and DJay starts to dream of doing more than pimping and tries to do some rappin'.
The film is kind of a rap filled, urban Rocky that might have flopped had it not been for the charismatic lead performance of Howard. He gives a very assured performance that his him drawling a syrupy, slow, Memphis drawl as he encourages his woman, scolds them and promotes himself. DJay is always promoting, whether it's women or his efforts to record some tracks. Howard's performance is subtle, raw, full of nuance and flash yet honest from beginning to end and it's hard to take your eyes off him.
I'll be watching for Howard's name in the opening credits based on these two great performances this year.