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Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Review: 8 MILE


"So, I hear you're a real dope rapper."
-- Alex

8 Mile is a 2002 Academy Award-winning drama directed by Curtis Hanson that served as rapper Eminem's first major foray into the acting world. After he and his girlfriend separate, Jimmy Smith Jr. (Eminem), known by his friends as "B-Rabbit," makes his way home to his mother's (Kim Basinger) trailer in the hopes of finding his feet once again. An aspiring hip-hop artist, Rabbit agrees to attend a rap battle hosted by his close friend Future (Mekhi Phifer), but he chokes once on-stage and leaves the battle amidst taunts and jokes. Embarrassed, Rabbit attempts to commit himself to his work at a steel-pressing factory, where he crosses paths with a young woman named Alex (Brittany Murphy) with whom he immediately takes interest. At the same time, Rabbit is told by a friend named Wink (Eugene Byrd) who claims to have connections with hip-hop big-wigs that he has managed to secure studio time for Rabbit. Unfortunately, nothing plays out exactly as he plans, and Rabbit has to deal with a number of situations over the course of a week that culminate in his being signed up for another rap battle against his will.

I can distinctly remember when 8 Mile first hit theaters back in 2002. At the time, I wasn't much a fan of Eminem - or the rap and hip-hop genre, for that matter - but there was something intriguing about seeing him on the big screen. I ultimately had to wait for the film to be released on DVD before I had a chance to see it, and although I didn't fall in love with it immediately, I could instantly see its merits as a film. Today, the film holds a 76% approval rating on, where the critical consensus reads as follows:
Even though the story is overly familiar, there's enough here for an engaging ride.
And, the fact that the film managed to secure a win at the Academy Awards also heightens its desirability.

Now, the above critical consensus definitely hits the nail on the head. There's nothing truly revolutionary about the film's story or its storytelling style. We've all seen the underdog-beating-the-odds bit before, even in the realm of the musical world, but there's something just a tad bit different about this particular film. Maybe it's the fact that it's taking the rap genre head-on and manages to fire on all cylinders. In a way, the story is very autobiographical to the life of Eminem, who grew up as Marshall Mathers. At the time of the film's release, Eminem was the king of the rap world, and his superstardom drove millions to the theaters to take in the movie. Because the film tells such a personal story, it manages to draw forth quite a bit of emotion. Sure, it's not anything brilliant, but it's honest in its storytelling, and it keeps you rooting for Rabbit until the film's slightly predictable finale.

The acting in the film ranges from very good to relatively decent, and some of the lesser performances drag the movie down a bit. Eminem provides a strong lead, and he shows that he has enough gusto to hold his own in front of the camera. I also thought Murphy did well with a very shallowly-written character, though a little more character depth could have proven to be a brilliant turn. I also have to give a lot of credit to Byrd and to Evan Jones, who played Rabbit's friend Cheddar Bob. Sadly, the cast in its entirety does not flourish. Basinger is a bit bothersome, hamming it up and playing her character as over-the-top as one could possibly imagine. It works in a few scenes, but for the most part, you really just want her to shut up. Michael Shannon has a bit part that is also over-acted, but because he isn't on-screen for all that long, it's a little more forgivable. Also be on the lookout for a cameo from Xzibit.

The reason this film gained so much critical acclaim, however, was the song that won it an Oscar. The track, titled "Lose Yourself," shocked Oscar audiences - as well as Oscar presenter Barbra Streisand - when it nabbed the golden statuette. Lets take a trip down memory lane and give it a listen, shall we?

At the end of the day, 8 Mile isn't bringing anything brilliantly new to the table. However, it still manages to keep the viewer engaged, and it offers a very personal look at one of the more popular rappers and musical artists of the 21st century. If you're a fan of Eminem and you haven't seen the film, then this is probably a must-watch. If you're a fan of music and music-centric films, give this one a go. If you're neither of those, you might want to pass on this one, but know that even for someone who didn't necessarily care strongly for either of those in 2002, I still found 8 Mile to be rather enjoyable.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B
1.5 Thumbs Up

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