he question everyone had coming into "8 Mile",
the new movie by director Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") was: Can
Eminem act? Well, the answer is maybe. Yes, Eminem, white rapper extraordinaire,
can indeed act; but that's taking into consideration Eminem is essentially
playing himself in a movie that closely mirrors his own rise to stardom. I would
need to see the rapper in another movie, one that isn't so close to him, to be
sure about his acting ability.
"8 Mile" stars Eminem as Jimmy
"Rabbit", a would-be white rapper living in his mother's trailer park
home, working at a auto plant by day and attempting to break into "the
game" by night. The "game" is the arena of professional rappers
(i.e. the guys that get paid for doing it). Although he's white, Rabbit isn't
out of his elements; he was born in the streets of Detroit and knows how to
handle himself. He hangs out with a small posse of friends including Future
(Mekhi Phifer), a MC at a local club called The Shelter that hosts weekly
rapping "battles", where two rappers get on stage and attempt to
out-rap each other. The crew constantly talks about making it big, even though
no one has yet come close.
The screenplay by Scott Silver is essentially a Rags to
Riches one. Director Curtis Hanson seems very aware of the subject matter and
the pitfalls of the genre, and attempts to go out of his way to avoid the usual
clichés. Despite Hanson's visual flair and the presence of hip-hop, "8
Mile" is too familiar for its own good. To be fair, "8 Mile" does
end rather un-Rags to Riches like. In fact, the ending is very abrupt, perhaps
too much so. Also, what was the point of the movie being set in the 1990s? Is
there a sequel in the works to be set later in the millennium?
The real star of "8 Mile" is the music. The movie
is end-to-end hip-hop. Eminem obviously wrote the lyrics that he uses during the
movie's many rap battles, and the film uses real street rappers (and some known
ones) to fill out the ranks of the battling rappers. The beat is consistently
good and they make you move. Also, characters dress in hip-hop fashion and throw
hip-hop slang around like it's going out of style. This is definitely not a film
for anyone unfamiliar, or dislikes, that cultural niche.
Eminem's love interest is Brittany Murphy ("Don't Say
a Word"), who plays the skank almost too well. (If you don't know what a
skank is, ask your kids.) Murphy is appropriately trashy and lusty, not to
mention undependable. Which also describes Kim Basinger, who plays Rabbit's
mother Stephanie. The epitome of trailer trash, Stephanie's big future plan is
to wait for her young boyfriend's settlement check to come in so she can pay her
rent. I think Basinger is employing some kind of southern accent, although I'm
not sure why since the movie supposedly takes place in Detroit.
Let me say again that I think "8 Miles" is a good
movie, just not a great one. The rap battles have excitement in them, and there
is plenty of physical violence as Rabbit's crew clashes with a rival crew called
the Free World. The Free World's leader is the reigning rap champ at the
Shelter, and it's against him that Rabbit chokes up in the film's first Act. The
movie becomes Rabbit's journey to find enough courage and confidence in himself
to actually do something once he gets onstage.
Beyond the above points, the movie fails to make me really
care about Rabbit or his plight. Rabbit is unquestionably our hero, but the guy
is not all that easy to like. His friends rally around him at every opportunity,
and the film treats would-be rappers like Rabbit as if they were would-be sports
stars, which is rather odd. Unlike sports, the judging of a rapper's potential
is really subjective. And although the movie tries to convince us that people
are hanging onto Rabbit in hopes that he will make it big and bring them along
for the ride, I just didn't buy it. The movie keeps telling us (through its
characters) that Rabbit is a rapping genius, but I keep wondering how they're so
sure about this when the only time Rabbit really shows that he's a good
rapper (re: not genius IMO) is in the end?
Regardless, "8 Mile" is a terrific looking movie.
Hanson has developed a very good style for the film's nighttime interior scenes,
giving it an ethereal glow with dull green colors. The soundtrack rivals that of
"The Crow" for sheer coolness. Combined that with Eminem's
better-than-expected performance, and "8 Mile" was a successful movie
by a lot of standards. He certainly did much better than his fellow
musician-turn-actors Mariah Carey and Britney Spears, that's for sure.