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"8 Mile" Review

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Title: 8 Mile

Starring: Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, Eugene Byrd

Written by: Scott Silver

Directed by: Curtis Hanson

Rating: R for strong language, sexuality, some violence and drug use.


Review by Stephen Silver

In "8 Mile" the groundbreaking white rapper Eminem gives an impressive performance in a relatively well-written and well-directed story- but one can't help wondering why the movie leaves out so much of what makes the Eminem persona so intriguing. Eminem has made a very good movie about his "Marshall Mathers" side, but imagine how great a movie could be made about "Slim Shady."

Eminem, almost undisputedly the most important artist in popular music today, attempts his crossover into movies, as "8 Mile" is a thinly veiled roman a clef about his early life. The rapper stars as Jimmy "B. Rabbit" Smith, a young man from inner-city Detroit who sees rap as his ticket out of the neighborhood. Along with a multi-cultural crew of friends and hangers-on, Rabbit negotiates the world of underground rap "battles," improvised rap/insult contests somewhat akin to underground boxing clubs.

"8 Mile"'s formula fuses the hip-hop tradition with both "Rocky"-style sports films and underdog-based music movies like "Purple Rain." The twist is that the production team behind the film is decidedly non-hip-hop oriented- it was written by Scott Silver (exiled from Hollywood since he directed the misbegotten "Mod Squad" movie four years ago) and directed by Curtis Hanson, who previously made one of the best films of the 90s, "L.A. Confidential."

"8 Mile" is certainly no "L.A. Confidential," yet it is considerably superior to the director's previous film, the ridiculously overrated "Wonder Boys." This movie even has Kim Basinger, who inexplicably won an Oscar for Hanson in "Confidential," bringing the most glamour possible to the role of Eminem's mother- one that hasn't exactly sounded glamorous, judging from his music.

For a film with a white hero, white director, and white screenwriter to maintain hiphop credibility is an uphill battle at best, but somehow the three of them pull it off, due almost entirely to the charisma and presence of Mr. Mathers himself.

But its that presence that reminds us of what "8 Mile" could've been. Eminem's genius as a provocateur in his music has always been based on his split in personality among "Marshall," "Eminem," and "Slim Shady." Shady's the one with the aggressive, violent tendencies, who says all those things that greatly anger everyone from GLAAD to Bill O'Reilly.

In this new fourth persona of Jimmy Smith, Slim Shady is the least represented of the three, and thus we get a toned-down, sanitized version of the Eminem who has scandalized the world- even though "8 Mile" is rated R it feels at times like the PG-13 version of the R-rated Shady on MTV.

Sure he's angry, but he's got reason to be. Sure he's violent, but his intentions are always good. The scene in which Rabbit defends a gay co-worker against a rival rapper is meant to convey a new tolerance on behalf of Eminem, but in the end it comes across as forced, as well as disingenuous.

In the end, however, "8 Mile" is impressive in getting a charismatic performance out of a lead actor who (outside of videos) has never acted before. The movie is at its best in the rap "battle" sequences, because they allow Eminem to use his talent to its fullest- and I'm not sure whether the battle raps were written by the screenwriter or the star, but they're viciously brilliant throughout.

"8 Mile"'s runaway box office success makes the likelihood of further Eminem screen adventures quite high. Let's hope that in the next installment of the Rabbit franchise we get a more honest depiction of who Eminem actually is. He may not look as likable, yet it's a good bet it would make an even more interesting film.

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