Review by Paul Stathakis | 2002

The pain is in his lyrics

Look, if you had one shot, one oppor­tu­ni­ty, to seize every­thing you ever want­ed, for one moment, would you cap­ture it or just let it slip?”, asks Eminem in his hit song “Lose Your­self”. Direc­tor Cur­tis Han­son focus­es on that ques­tion in his new dra­ma “8 Mile”, about a young Detroit rap­per with dreams of mak­ing it in the hip-hop world.

The film stars Mar­shall Math­ers (aka Eminem) as Jim­my Smith Jr. Jim­my (bet­ter known as Rab­bit) is dri­ven by anger and has a whole list of prob­lems: he can’t keep a job, freezes at the mic dur­ing an under­ground rap bat­tle, gets dumped by his preg­nant girl­friend, and is forced to move back in with his moth­er Stephanie (Kim Basinger) and sis­ter Lily. How­ev­er, his luck could change when his best friend Future (Mekhi Phifer) offers him a chance to prove him­self at an under-ground event.

The com­pe­ti­tion in “8 Mile” is fierce, but Eminem man­ages to steal the show by giv­ing a sur­pris­ing­ly out­stand­ing per­for­mance. The tagline on the film’s reflec­tive poster reads, “Every moment is anoth­er chance” and “8 Mile” is Eminem’s chance to prove him­self as an actor. And he does. Often dressed in loose-fit­ting pants, puffy jack­ets, and a small hat, Jim­my cruis­es around town with his friends and pos­sess­es a sleek “bad boy” atti­tude that is sim­ply per­fect for this kind of film. A rebel­lious-type char­ac­ter, Jim­my is not afraid to speak his mind or start unnec­es­sary brawls with thugs.

When direc­tor Cur­tis Han­son helmed the 1997 acclaimed crime dra­ma “L.A. Con­fi­den­tial”, he received pos­i­tive crit­i­cism. Com­par­ing “8 Mile” to “L.A. Con­fi­den­tial” is a “faux pas”, but I did notice some­thing sim­i­lar to both films: Han­son always adds a more dra­mat­ic side to his movies by slip­ping in at least one sad and touch­ing scene. There is one thought-pro­vok­ing scene in which a 4x4 pulls up in front of Jim­my’s moth­er’s crum­my lit­tle trail­er. Jim­my, who is out­side with his lit­tle sis­ter, tells her to go inside. A gang that Jim­my once roughed, steps out of the SUV, and then leaves him lying bruised and bloody in the mid­dle of the road. There is also a heart­break­ing scene involv­ing Jim­my’s girl­friend, Alex (Brit­tany Murphy).

Okay Eminem fans, do not wor­ry: Mr. Math­ers grabs the mic towards the end and chal­lenges a ruth­less rap­per to an aston­ish­ing rap duel and, yes, his lyrics flow like poetry.

Are there any prob­lems with “8 Mile” or is it a flaw­less film? To be quite hon­est, dis­ap­point­ment finds its way in the script. Don’t get me wrong, “8 Mile” is a beau­ti­ful to watch: the light­ing is per­fect, the com­po­si­tion of Han­son’s shots is dead on, and the edit­ing is fast-paced (as it should be). But the dia­logue is rather weak and lacks orig­i­nal­i­ty. Luck­i­ly, Eminem is the main attrac­tion here: his onscreen pres­ence, his music, and most impor­tant­ly, his under­ground rap bat­tles. Eminem fans say that he often speaks from the heart in every one of his songs. Maybe the lyrics are sup­posed to serve as the excit­ing part of the script? I’d like to think that, but music isn’t the focus. “8 Mile” focus­es on one man’s life and all the obsta­cles he must over­come to meet his true desire and to become the next hot act to top the music charts.

Bot­tom line: Whether he records a hit or hits the big screen, Eminem has proven his range as an artist. I won’t say I loved “8 Mile”, but I won’t say I hat­ed it either. Cur­tis Han­son pro­vides great visu­al mate­r­i­al and Eminem still man­ages to steal the spot­light. He is cool and that’s how audi­ences will per­ceive him while exit­ing this film. “I lost myself” in the last twen­ty min­utes of “8 Mile”, because it’s enter­tain­ing and sat­is­fy­ing and, basi­cal­ly, it’s Eminem say­ing, “I did­n’t have it easy, but I made it and I have Han­son to thank.”


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