8 Mile Review
By Shawn McKenzie 11/14/2002
When I went in to see 8 Mile, it was after months of anticipation. I’ve been a fan of Eminem ever since his major label debut album, The Slim Shady LP, was released in 1999. Despite what you may think of him or his politics, you have to admit he has a lot of talent and personality. I thought that a semi-autobiographical movie starring him would be interesting to see. Then I heard who was directing the movie…Curtis Hanson. Hanson has had some movies in his repertoire that I wasn’t too crazy about, but I’ll get into that later. First let me clue you in to what this movie is about, and later what it isn’t about (I think you will understand after I explain it later.)
8 Mile is the story of a young white guy living in Detroit named Jimmy Smith, Jr. (Eminem.) He lives with his mom, Stephanie (Kim Basinger), her much younger boyfriend who he had gone to high school with named Greg Buehl (Michael Shannon), and his young sister, Lily (Chloe Greenfield). He lives with them in a trailer park on 8 Mile (an actual road in Michigan that separates Detroit proper from seven northern suburbs.) Jimmy has dreams of being a rapper, and everyone calls him by his various rap names (Rabbit, B. Rabbit, Bunny Rabbit.) He is living with his mom because he just broke up with his girlfriend, Janeane (Taryn Manning), who is claiming she is pregnant. Rabbit hangs out with his friends Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones), Sol George (Omar Benson Miller), and DJ Iz (De'Angelo Wilson). He also deals with two other people who are trying to help him with his career. The first one is his life-long friend David Porter, a.k.a. Future (Mekhi Phifer), who wants Rabbit to participate in his nighttime rap battles at a club called the Shelter where the contestants have forty-five seconds each to put down and verbally defeat their opponents. The other one is Wink (Eugene Byrd), a local entrepreneur who wants to help him with his budding career using his connections to the recording industry. The last time Rabbit tried to compete at the Shelter he froze on the stage, which made his competition, rap champion Papa Doc (Anthony Mackie), very happy, and his shares that enjoyment with the rest of his "The Free World" crew. Later, after a scuffle with Free World, he hooks up with Alex (Brittany Murphy), a girl who is also trying to make it, but as a model. He had briefly met her earlier at the auto plant that he works for when she was looking for her brother, who also worked there. He is instantly attracted to her, and she likes him too, and his talent. Rabbit is constantly frustrated with himself and his life, and he wants to get out of Detroit and use the talent everyone says he has, if only he can get over his crippling stage fright.
Now…I’ll clue you into what this movie is not about. It is not a concert film. I went to see this movie with a couple of guys who were expecting a whole lot of rapping, a la The Show, or even a drama that would have segments that could easily be turned into music videos, a la Krush Groove. Not that there is anything wrong with those movies, but this was just a drama that happened to include rapping in it. I honestly thought of it as the rap version of Rocky…you know...the hero fights the problems of his life situation to triumph in the end with his talent. You could almost compare it to Purple Rain, since both movies were semi-autobiographical and had the hero dealing with a parent.
Unlike Purple Rain, the acting is much better, if not necessarily Oscar-worthy. Eminem puts in a great performance, even though I constantly hear from most people that he was just playing himself. While that may be true, he is a rapper, and rappers tend to be the musicians that make the best actors. The true test will be his next starring role, whatever that may be (he did have an uncredited role as Chris, the psycho former employee of the car wash in the 2001 movie The Wash.) All the supporting performances were good, with the exception of Basinger. It may just be a case of me not fully understanding the character, but I don’t know why she had a southern accent (and a bad one at that.) This is Detroit, not Memphis, and neither of her kids, Rabbit or Lily, had an accent. Now, If she had been a Southern woman who had moved to Detroit I could understand the accent, I could even understand Rabbit not having one because of the influence of growing up in Detroit around his peers, but why not Lily? Oh well, minor gripe.
I find it ironic that Basinger’s performance disappointed me in an otherwise excellent film, because director Hanson had directed her in the movie that won her an Oscar, 1997’s L.A. Confidential. Hanson’s involvement in this movie worried me a little bit because I did not like L.A. Confidential or 2000’s Wonder Boys, his last two movies before 8 Mile. Those movies stuck out in my head when I heard he was directing this one, but when I did a little research, I found out that he had done a couple of movies I really enjoyed, 1992’s The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and 1994’s The River Wild. I can now add 8 Mile to that list. I guess I’ll just have to keep a wait-and-see attitude with Hanson, kind of like I do with Joel Schumacher.
8 Mile is a movie I can highly recommend, even if you are not a fan of rap music. Eminem may be playing himself, but I truly see great future performances out of him (though I suspect he will excel in bad guy roles.) Check out the movie for yourself, but unlike my friends, go into it expecting a boy-made-good movie, not a rap documentary.
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