Rap impresario, inflamer, misogynist, gay-basher, and now Oscar hopeful? Forever changing and offending, it's to resist Eminem, or at least be intrigued by him, because, if nothing else, he's that most irresistible of things: an underdog. Clearly, it was this quality that attracted Hollywood and director Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys), as the Caucasian king of hip-hop gets his moment on the big screen to blast all the naysayers with both his acting chops and the old stand-by, his rhymes.
From the get-go it's apparent 8 Mile is a film about overcoming obstacles, a classic tale of talent conquering all, and a familiar ode to the adage that it really doesn't matter what color your skin is. As Jimmy Smith Jr., nicknamed Rabbit, stares in the mirror like the abandoned son of Jake LaMotta (or is it Dirk Diggler?) in the opening scene of 8 Mile, you're already nervous, and feel kind of sorry for him. Then, after puking, this scrawny white kid uneasily makes his way onto a stage and turns to face a sea of black faces. Now you really feel bad for him, as he struggles to make the words flow, in front of a very disapproving crowd.
Working off a fictional script about a character strikingly similar to the real Slim Shady, Marshall "Eminem" Mathers III, 8 Mile slides back and forth from its star's aimless days spent on the small-time Detroit rap circuit to his depressing home life -he literally lives in a trailer with his mother. Although Curtis Hanson doesn't have a strikingly compelling or unusual script to work off of, he plays to the best aspects of the story, namely his star and subject. Pulling material from Eminem's music, Hanson delivers a satisfying portrait of a guy we've seen through his lyrics. From the bouts he has with his trashy, but beautiful, mom (Kim Basinger) to his days pressing bumpers at a local factory, Rabbit's story provides the unlikeliest, but perhaps most obvious, revelation: Eminem is an extremely personal rapper.
Book-ended by two pivotal and compelling sequences, 8 Mile, like its star, is best when it focuses on the music. Mathers continues to battle for respect and trash those who have already come over to his side. Rabbit constantly fights to prove himself to the world.
In that respect, 8 Mile is really the story of how Marshall Mathers becomes Slim Shady-how a kid who was too afraid to sing realizes that comedy is his best weapon. Like Eminem's lyrics, which constantly toe the line between playful and offensive, Rabbit slowly learns to turn his quiet rage on himself and sing about his own tragic comedy.
And, when Rabbit does speak, battling his enemies with words, the results are dazzling. Aside from the interesting analysis of Eminem as icon, 8 Mile displays the breathtaking virtuosity of MCs who, in the span of a few seconds, deliver whip-smart diatribes off the top of their heads. The purest form of rap, the film does a fine job of chronicling the way music has become the heart and soul of the communities that no one is listening to.
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