Eminem in an excellent performance as, um.... Eminem
This latest work from Curtis Hanson, the acclaimed director of LA Confidential and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, features one of the entertainment world's biggest and most bankable stars, Marshall Mathers III, better known as Eminem. And before those who like neither Hip-Hop, nor Mr. Mathers, denounce 8 Mile, rest assured that you do not have to be a fan of either to enjoy it. This is something to which I can personally attest, having seen this film in the company of a friend who "hates Eminem's guts," but left the cinema full of praise for it.
8 Mile has been massively successful at the US Box Office, but this cannot be entirely attributed to Eminem's fame or massive appeal - Mariah Carey sells CDs by the bucket-load, but her last movie, the atrocious Glitter, flopped. Rather, it is due to the strong performances of Eminem and his supporting players, and the excellent direction of Hanson (although from now on I may use his full name - I don't know about you, but every time I see that name on its own, the words Mmm-Bop creep into my head!).
This is the controversial rapper's first foray into film, and if the man himself is to be believed, his only. However, on this showing, it may not be long until he caves into the numerous offers likely to be winging their way towards his mailbox.
The film has been much-hyped as being based on Eminem's life, particularly his late adolescence in the 8 Mile Road area of Detroit, from which the film takes its name, and while there are undoubtedly similarities, it is really a classic 'disadvantaged kid makes good' tale, like Rocky, with lyrics instead of punches. There are distinct differences too - anyone familiar with Eminem's recordings will be well aware of the vitriol he directs towards his mother, Debbie Mathers, but Rabbit's relationship with his mother is much more peaceful.
Eminem plays the role of Jimmy 'Rabbit' Smith, a troubled young man from the wrong side of the tracks, living with his mother and younger sister in a white-trash trailer park in 8 Mile. He works a dead-end job at a steel-stamping factory in downtown Detroit, but he undoubtedly has talent.
After choking at his first attempt to take part in the weekly 'Rap-Battle' at a neighbourhood club, the film follows Rabbit as he tries to regain his confidence and try again. Having recently broken-up with his long-term girlfriend (the reasons for which are never adequately explained), he returns to live with his unemployed, bingo-playing mother, an on-form Kim Basinger, as he and his friends (chief amongst whom is Mekhi Phifer, most notable for playing Dr. Pratt in ER) try to attain their dream of a record contract.
There are familiar themes here of disappointment, betrayal and fear, and this could have been an average movie in less-skilled hands, but Hanson's (Mmm-Bop, ba ba Mmm-Bop- Damn!) direction is superb, and Rodrigo Prieto's excellent cinematography lends the Detroit slums and night-spots a bleak air. Eminem himself is a joy to watch - his seems an unsympathetic character at first, all hooded-face and gruff manner, but as the movie progresses the viewer begins to relate with him, and by the final rap-battle showdown (a masterpiece in which Eminem's greatest talent is on full display) we find ourselves desperately wanting him to beat his opponent.
Though by no means a perfect film (but then, has there ever been such a thing?), 8 Mile is intelligent, enjoyable stuff, with a powerful central performance and compelling storyline. On the strength of this, let's hope that Eminem re-thinks his decision not to act again.
8 Mile earns 5, out of a possible 5, Combined Goodness Units.
Kim Basinger (Stephanie Smith)
Brittany Murphy (Alex)
Mekhi Phifer (Future)