Directed By: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Eminem, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer
Tag line: "Find Your Voice"
Trivia: actor Gary Sinese was the original choice to play Greg, the boyfriend of Rabbit's mother
Loosely based on the life and experiences of its star, rapper Eminem, 2002’s 8 Mile Is a tough, often unflinching look at life in the poorer sections of Detroit, where winning a freestyle rap battle can mean the difference between fame and obscurity.
Jimmy Smith (Eminem), aka “B-Rabbit”, has hit rock bottom. Forced to move back home with his mother (Kim Basinger), who’s shacked up with her much-younger boyfriend, Greg (Michael Shannon), Rabbit dreams of a better life, and one way for him to get it is to win an underground rap battle, many of which are hosted by his good friend, Future (Mekhi Phifer). Yet, despite his talents as a rapper, Rabbit chokes whenever he takes the stage, a victim of his own insecurities. Not even Alex (Brittany Murphy), the new girl in his life, can give him the confidence he so desperately needs. Will Rabbit overcome his fears, or is he doomed to spend the rest of his days middling away in the section of Detroit the locals call “8 Mile”?
To be sure, 8 Mile closely adheres to a formula we’ve seen many times before: the underdog trying to conquer his doubts and fears to make his dreams come true. Yet in spite of the predictability of it all, 8 Mile works, due in part to the film’s star, Eminem, who, by playing a character very much like himself, brings an authenticity that’s usually lacking in movies of this ilk (whether or not the rapper would be as effective in any other role is a moot point because, in the 12 years since this film’s release, he hasn’t even tried to do so). Equally as impressive as its star’s performance is the film’s gritty, urban feel, with director Hanson taking us into the back alleys and abandoned buildings of Detroit, thus adding to the movie’s overall realism (these scenes reminded me of the first half of 1976’s Rocky, when Rocky Balboa spent a good deal of time walking the streets of Philadelphia). There are other things about 8 Mile that impressed me, such as the fine performances of Mekhi Phifer as Future, the one man who pushes Rabbit to succeed; Kim Basinger as Rabbit’s somewhat self-absorbed mother, who isn’t above discussing her sex life with her son; and Brittany Murphy as Rabbit’s girlfriend, who’s a little more ambitious than even he realized. On top of this, I also enjoyed the rap battles themselves (all of which had an incredible energy), as well as the film’s soundtrack (Eminem won an Oscar that year for Best Song for his brilliant “Lose Yourself”). But in the end, it’s Eminem’s performance, coupled with the city of Detroit itself, that makes 8 Mile what it is.
So, for those who’ll argue the movie is formulaic, I don’t disagree with you. But thanks to the cast and crew, whose spirit and energy is on display in every scene, we see that even a formula can sometimes make for an inspiring motion picture.