8 Mile

Curtis Hanson

BY Joshua OstroffPublished Dec 1, 2002

Eminem doesn't suck — which the homophobic rapper probably would have told you anyway — but his debut film 8 Mile fails to match its star's charismatic performance. The Oscar-winning duo of director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and producer Brian Grazer ( A Beautiful Mind) had two basic options: "Purple Rain-meets-the honky ya love to hate" or "Saturday Night Fever, but, get this, with a white guy rapping instead of busting black dance moves!" Unfortunately, they went with the latter, turning what could have been a freestyle-filled pseudo-biopic into a meandering melodrama that exchanges energy for self-seriousness.

Luckily, they have the only credible white rapper out there. While Marshall Mathers' acting rests primarily in a default glower, it is an eminently believable portrayal (it's not easy playing yourself, you know, check out Glitter) and perfectly matches the gritty and dour Detroit environment.

The world on either side of 8 Mile, the road separating Detroit's black and white populations, is grey and broken and sad, a ghost city of struggling survivors too poor to leave their trailer parks and projects. Over the course of 8 Mile, the city becomes a veritable character and provides the movie's second most exultant moment when Eminem's character Rabbit and friends engage in the timeless D-town ritual of torching an abandoned building.
But it's not about Detroit, it's about Eminem and his epic life story would seem perfectly suited for the screen. However, the "fictionalised" version has been sanitised rather than exaggerated, robbing the film of much-needed drama. Kim Bassinger's evil mom just doesn't seem as evil as the real Debbie Mathers, his friends are far tamer than D-12 and Rabbit's quickie relationship with back-stabbing Brittany Murphy is nowhere near as fucked-up as Em's romance with Kim. It all seems cleverly designed to make Em more palatable for mainstream consumption.

But we're left with a plot that goes nowhere as it covers a week in Rabbit's life between choking at a freestyle competition and conquering in the re-match. Aside from being hated-on for his lack of pigment — brutally dissed as a nazi, Elvis, Vanilla Ice and The Beaver — Rabbit also goes to work at an auto factory, fights his mom's boyfriend, dotes over his kid sister (she's not named Hailie but might as well be), gets beat up, has sex and, uh, fixes his car. It's all terribly mundane — especially with the biographic raw materials they had at their disposal.

Until the climactic battle, that is. So nervous he actually pukes in the film's first scene, Rabbit's eventual redemption through self-deprecating wordplay and seemingly spontaneous playground disses is hilariously exhilarating. But his nemeses, The Leaders of the Free World, are no Morris Day and the Time and despite two hours running time, Em is simply not given enough opportunity to really let his flow fly. Which is really, to be honest, why we're all there in the first place.

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