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8 Mile (Curtis Hanson) 2002


    Just about the last thing that I expected a movie starring controversial rapper Eminem to be was boring, but that’s the word that most immediately springs to mind when I consider Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile. Set on the streets of Detroit in 1995, the film shows a semi-autobiographical but still fictional chronicle of the rapper’s rise to fame. Playing here a character named Rabbit, Eminem reveals himself as a horribly untalented actor. Moping about with his hood over his head and his face down half the time, he exhibits little of the charisma required to make us believe that Rabbit could be destined for something bigger than life in a trailer park. That this is a Hollywood film that features lead characters that live in a trailer park at all is something quite uncommon, especially because the dwelling is presented without any kind of cuteness. There’s real social observation here, it seems at first, but it all dissolves when the movie’s plot becomes apparent. The trailer park is only representative of poverty, and as true to Hollywood form, poverty is something that must be escaped. The characters in the movie seem to use their rap music less as a means of self-expression than as a lottery ticket that they hope might pay off one day.  By making the music in the film, which is mostly presented in a series of battle-raps, all about the bling-bling, the film confirms my biggest fears about Eminem’s sincerity as an artist.


    Listening to Eminem’s music CD “The Marshall Mathers LP” is a harrowing but invigorating experience. As a rapper, Eminem spins his persona so that the line between his hyperbolic humor and his worldview blurs. As the disc continues, he continues to push the envelope further than before, culminating in the genuinely shocking track “Kim”, which graphically simulates a fatal domestic dispute. Nothing in 8 Mile comes within miles of that sort of intensity. Rabbit gets involved in a domestic dispute at one point, but it’s because he’s protecting his mother from an abusive boyfriend. Throughout the movie, everything that made Eminem compelling (if not likable) on CD is reduced and sanitized in a similar fashion. Rabbit has outbursts, but they’re all made almost justifiable with a lot of boring exposition. One must wonder what would compel a rapper with his stature and success to compromise so willingly. “The Eminem Show”, his follow-up to “Mathers LP” likewise makes many concessions toward mainstream acceptability, and like 8 Mile that move seems like a baffling step in the career of someone purporting to tell it like it is. If selling 15 million records instead of 10 million is worth selling out, maybe the real-world rapper’s music is all about the bling-bling.


    In any case, the serious lack of danger in 8 Mile hampers things greatly. Can’t a persona so outsized be squeezed into something better than a limp remake of Prince’s Purple Rain? It’s telling that co-star Brittany Murphy, who plays Rabbit’s temporary girlfriend Alex, gives the film not only its best performance but also its most dangerous moments. A sex scene that Alex and Rabbit share is the only thing here that feels spontaneous, and Alex’s momentary half-embarrassed, half-naughty giggle after they’re done has more sex appeal than Eminem seems capable of ever scrounging up. Murphy gives the movie a bit of presence whenever she’s around, and it’s to Hanson’s credit that he presents her character as someone who’s smarter and more driven than Rabbit. The rest of the supporting cast seems utterly subservient to him though, and as the center of the movie’s universe, Eminem is seriously lacking any sort of gravity that can hold the pieces together. It's no wonder, then, that 8 Mile falls apart.


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Jeremy Heilman