Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"8 Mile" (2002)

Starring Eminem, Mekhi Phifer and Brittany Murphy
Written by Scott Silver
Directed by Curtis Hanson
Rated R - Language, sexuality, brief nudity, drug use
Running Time: 110 minutes

8 Mile [Blu-ray]Rapper Eminem stars as Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith, a young white rapper growing up in Detroit and dealing with the various stresses of holding down a job and taking care of his family.  The film opens as Rabbit is about to go on stage in a rap battle, but he chokes and is booed off.  Having broken up with his girlfriend, he's forced to move back in with his mother Stephanie (Kim Basinger) and young sister. 

Rabbit dreams of being a rapper, and has the talent to do it, but feels like he can't catch a break.  He works a crap job at factory, trying to scrape together the money to make sure his mother and sister don't get evicted from the trailer park.  He's constantly given scraps of hope by his old friend Wink (Eugene Byrd) who promises him studio time to record a demo.  On the opposite side is his friend Future (Mekhi Phifer), who hosts the rap battles, who insists that Wink is full of it.  Rabbit also meets Alex (Brittany Murphy) an attractive young woman who is drawn to his talents.

Being pushed, pulled and prodded in a million different directions for people who claim to know what's best for him, Rabbit must ultimately choose his own path for himself, and prove his talent to gain the respect of his peers.

Buried within "8 Mile" is a great film, but the things that drag it down ultimately make it merely a decent one.  The story doesn't delve deep enough into its characters to truly make them come alive, and the dialogue is mostly bland except for the rap battles.  The problem with "8 Mile" is that it mostly just feels like a film going through the motions, like it had a list of scenes that the makers felt had to be included and it didn't matter whether they all made sense or had the sort of impact that they should have had.

The cast does the best they can, but they're not given material that they can really dig into.  Brittany Murphy's character, for example, doesn't seem to serve much dramatic purpose at all.  All the characters in the film seem to exist purely to give Rabbit a problem, but Rabbit's main method of solving his problems is to get angry and make mistakes.  He begins the film by breaking up with his girlfriend because he needs to find his way, but he flies into a rage when he finds Alex having sex with Wink even though there's no indication that the two are in any kind of exclusive relationship.  Indeed, Rabbit and Alex have sex at the factory before even going out on a date.

A lot of praise has been heaped on Eminem's performance in the film.  While he does well enough, selling the frustration of a man who feels held back by everyone in his life, the thing that's really praise-worthy about it is that he doesn't outright suck.  Like the rest of the film, the only time he really shows any energy or life is during the rap battles.  It's here that Eminem's talents as a rapper overshadow his unremarkable (but not bad) acting. 

As such, the climactic sequence where Rabbit competes against a group of rival rappers is the film's most impressive and entertaining sequence.  It's the only time that Eminem, and the film, truly grab the audience by the balls and say "Listen to this!"  It's in these moments that the characters have energy and the dialogue finally shows some creativity, as the battles are mostly just layer after layer of freestyle insults that get ever more lively.  If the rest of the film had this kind of energy and creativity, "8 Mile" would be so much more than a decent flick with a popular soundtrack.