Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#1,401. 8 Mile (2002)

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 experiences of its star, Eminem, 2002’s 8 Mile is a tough, unflinching look at life in the poorer sections of Detroit, where a freestyle rap battle can mean the difference between fame and oblivion.

Jimmy Smith (Eminem), aka “B-Rabbit”, has hit rock bottom. Forced to move back home with his mother (Kim Basinger), who has shacked up with her much-younger boyfriend (Michael Shannon), Rabbit dreams of a better life. 

One way for him to get it is to win an underground rap battle, which are emceed by his good friend Future (Mekhi Phifer). Yet, despite being a talented 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 Rabbit the confidence he so desperately needs. 

Will Rabbit overcome his fears, or is he destined to spend the remainder of his days toiling away in the section of Detroit the locals call “8 Mile”?

8 Mile adheres to a formula we’ve seen countless times before: the underdog trying to conquer his fears and make his dreams come true. Yet despite the predictability of it all, 8 Mile works, due in large part to the film’s star, Eminem. By playing a character very much like himself, Eminem brings an authenticity  that’s usually lacking in movies like this one. 

Equal to its star's performance is the film’s gritty, urban feel. Director Curtis Hanson takes us into the back alleys and abandoned buildings of Detroit, and in so doing intensifies the movie’s overall realism.  There are moments in this film that reminded me of the first half of 1976’s Rocky, when Stallone's title character was walking the streets of Philadelphia. 

There are other aspects of 8 Mile that impressed me as well, 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 is a little more ambitious than even he realizes. On top of this, the rap battles had an incredible energy, as did the film’s soundtrack (Eminem won the Best Song Oscar that year for his brilliant “Lose Yourself”). 

But in the end, it was Eminem himself, coupled with the city of Detroit, that made 8 Mile the excellent film it is.

So, for those who might argue that 8 Mile is formulaic, I can’t disagree with you. But thanks to its cast and crew, we see that even an overused formula  sometimes makes for an inspiring motion picture.

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