Friday 1 July 2011

Movie Review: 8 Mile (2002)

A one-against-all coming-of-age rap music drama, 8 Mile is a trip to the heart of gritty Detroit, and a vaguely semi-autobiographical account of Eminem's pre-fame life. It is also a well-made, unblinking movie, wading into the day-to-day grind of the struggling underprivileged in a distressed city. Out of the agony, the inspirational Lose Yourself won the academy award for Best Song, and may well be one of the all-time best film-inspired songs.

8 Mile Road is the commonly accepted cultural and racial dividing line between Detroit and its northern suburbs. The population south of 8 Mile is predominantly black with a high poverty rate; north of 8 Mile is where the wealthy white people live. Jimmy Smith Jr., better known by his rap nom de guerre B-Rabbit (Eminem), is white but very much on the south side of 8 Mile. He has just split with his girlfriend who may be pregnant; he is forced to live in the trailer of his white-trash mom (Kim Basinger) and her good-for nothing boyfriend; and he is barely hanging on to his job in a metal-stamping factory. And to make matters worse, Rabbit chokes during a rap contest, damaging his reputation as an up-and-coming rapper.

Rabbit does have his small circle of friends, including Future (Mekhi Phifer), who hosts the rap contests, and the aggravating Wink (Eugene Byrd), who is good at name-dropping apparent contacts in the rap world, but little else. Rabbit also meets the slutty Alex (Brittany Murphy), who is willing to have sex anywhere and with whoever may help her get out of Detroit. Most of Rabbit's life seems to be heading from bad to worse, including his ever-failing car, and he has several violent run-ins with a group of rappers called Free World. But Future insists that Rabbit participate in one more rap contest, providing him a final chance to overcome his fear of failure and turn his life around.

Director Curtis Hanson captures Detroit as a bleak city that has been chewed up and spit out by the industrial age, a crime-infested, hostile environment with abandoned homes that serve as convenient murder scenes and shuttered businesses that now stand as a painful reminder of the more prosperous past. It's a grim backdrop for a movie, and Eminem, in his acting debut as B. Rabbit, thrives in it. His performance mixes perfect doses of edginess, self-doubt, despair and gradually increasing determination.

Kim Basinger is also compelling as Rabbit's mother Stephanie, a woman struggling to breathe with her nose pressed hard into the bottom of life's barrel. It's a role that's painful to watch, and Basinger shines in it, providing a welcome blush to the middle of her career. Brittany Murphy, who tragically died in 2009, leaves behind one of her more memorable screen turns as Alex, representing the never-ending conveyor belt of desperate women who believe that a better world awaits on the coast, and who are willing to use their physical assets to get there.

The relationships in Rabbit's life all offer something different, but only one, his friendship with Future, offers hope and progress. There are no heroics in 8 Mile, just reminders that no matter how grim life is, there are always nuggets of hope that offer a way to a brighter tomorrow. Identifying the nuggets through the clutter is the biggest challenge standing in the way of those who live south of 8 Mile Road.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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