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View Date: November 4th, 2002

Rating: ($$$$ out of $$$$$)


Eminem Jimmy Smith Jr/ Bunny Rabbit/ B-Rabbit/ Rabbit
Kim Basinger Stephanie Smith
Brittany Murphy Alex
Mekhi Phifer David Porter/Future
Eugene Byrd Wink
Omar Benson Miller Sol George
Taryn Manning Janeane

Directed by:
Curtis Hanson

Scott Silver

Related Viewings:
Slam (1998)
Sid and Nancy (1986)
Purple Rain (1984)
Rose, The (1979)

Official Site:
8-Mile: The Movie

Cast information and links courtesy of logo.gif (2059 bytes)

Go To Reel Rambling Page




The recent tragic death of rap pioneer Jam Master Jay of Run DMC has cast a pall over what could potentially be the culmination of rapís mainstream crossover.  With 8-Mile, director Curtis Hanson has created a raw, honest and powerful look at the roots of this American music form.  Rap music was born in the streets, it wasnít always about money, cars, women, drugs and a general thuggish lifestyle that now seems to define the genre.  It was the voice of the beaten down, the oppressed, the painfully honest rants of those seemingly trapped in a lifestyle but who yearned to get out.  The music was their voice, the lyrics were their life and the beat was their emotion, brutal, straightforward, sometimes disorganized, but always real at its core.  8 Mile reflects this by stripping away all of the glamour and showing us itís truest origin via its most unconventional messenger, a white boy from Missouri named Marshall Mathers aka Eminem.

The 8-Mile section of Detroit Michigan is apparently known as being a racial dividing line between whites and blacks, and a social division between the have-nots and the really have notís.  This is depicted early on as the filmís main character rides a bus to work after finding his mother having sex in a trailer with a classmate of his and being given a birthday gift of a car that doesnít work.  Just another day in paradise for most of us Iíd say.  Jimmyís nickname is Rabbit, the origin of which you can choose between his own definition and his motherís.  His life is about as far from perfect as you can get without being in a Todd Solondz film.  Besides his motherís carefree indiscretions and blind faith in a deadbeat boyfriend, Rabbit has choked during an amateur night rap competition, left his girlfriend after she claimed she was pregnant, is being strung along by an unscrupulous entrepreneur, and now is late for work at a job full of those that life has unmercifully spit out.  His saving graces are apparently his musical ability, the potential chance at stardom by his friend (Future) and a budding new romance with an aspiring model Alex.  The remainder of the movie becomes a journey through desperation to find that sliver of hope.  Some slivers pan out, while others are just flashes and in between are brutal and painful reality checks that life seems to throw at us just when we think we have it all figured out.  The pending and expected showdown with a rival rap group may seem predictable, but Hanson builds it up and delivers it with a powerful subtlety that puts a cap on the film which will have even the most staunch opposition of the music nodding in respect. 

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, holed up in your leftover Y2K bomb shelter or just never turn your radio or television, then you know the familiar lyrics.  "Lose yourself in the music, the moment, you want it, you better never let it go, you only got one shot"1, these are not just words, but an anthem and mantra for the film itself.  I've often said that music is the soundtrack of our lives.  It can recall memories, or give sound and rhythm to the events of your life.  The soundtrack for 8 Mile is relevant, powerful and definitely sets the tone for the film.  From the recognizable appeal Lose Yourself, to an applicable (and my favorite) version of Sweet Home Alabama to the numerous insult laden rap slams during the contests at Future's club "The Shelter, the sound of this film, combined with the gritty desolate look and general desperation of the characters give this film a unique aspect that sets it apart from other musical rags to riches stories.  Hanson isnít asking us to like rap music and its performers, only to understand them.  To most of these people, this is their only chance to break out, to escape and become something, and in order to fully succeed and give someone their due, you have to see where they came from.  I believe Hanson has created a fitting tribute to the rappers, past and present, who have laid the road on which the Escalade driving, Cristal drinking, thug-life admiring current populace will ascend to greatness along. Itís all about respect, education, and knowing where youíve come from while understanding where you are.

Most of the pre movie buzz from the film revolves around Eminem, and I will say this much; his performance is effective.  Is it award worthy? Probably not, but you may not see a more truthful representation of how things really are, as opposed to society and the mediaís glorified and criticized perspective.  Loosely based around the star's own upbringing in the streets of Detroit, the story never resorts to the expected seens of violence, lavish parties, carefree lifestyles and a lackadaisical approach to most things in life.  Instead, Hanson populates the film with a desolate, desperate nature amidst all its characters.  From Jimmy, the steel worker with a talent for lyrically stringing words together, to his mother awaiting that one big Bingo jackpot, to Phifer whose dreams may always be bigger than his successes, to Alex, who is driven by a dream at whatever cost; this is a slice of the other side of Americana, complete with itís own soundtrack in the travails of its characters.  As for the supporting cast, Basinger seems to be overacting at points, but is believable as a white trash woman who is in the latter stages of having her hopes and dreams crushed and who is now just riding things out hoping for one more break.  Murphy doesnít really have to stretch her acting talents much, but also doesnít overdo a role which could have been exploited. Finally Phifer, doffing his E.R. coat for dreadlocks, gives a straight on performance as Jimmyís friend who has a lot of good intentions, but few good actualities. Like the movie, the performers have stripped themselves down dramatically and like the mixed beats underneath a song, have given the movie just the right tone and pace to effectively convey its message.

Ultimately, 8-Mile is straightforward, honest look at the basis of an art form that was, is and will always be a route to escape and a reason to dream.  Check your opinions of rap music and all its stereotypes at the door, because this film is the most truthful depiction ever put on film about the struggles and pain of the originators that the successful rappers have built their present kingdoms upon.  There were several points in the film where the story could have resorted to the typical machinations of its predecessors (such as crime sprees and drive by shootings) but instead, Hanson keeps the story in focus, building sympathy in his characters through their suffering and hardships.  In doing so, not only will he have made a household name of Eminem, for the 15 people who are still not aware of him, but he will have made a landmark film for this musical styling which should serve as a reminder to those who benefit of what it took for them to be who they have become.  In 8-Mile, Curtis Hanson has found the voice of a generation and served it up without pulling punches or exploiting clichťs.  Those going to see if Eminem can act will not be disappointed and may even be a bit more educated and respectful the next time a car comes bumping down your street.  Now youíll know where it came from, and like it or not, itís not going awayRest in Peace Jam Master Jay, your influences are not forgotten, and now for the first time, they are truthfully depicted and your voice will live on forever with messages like this..

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