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8 Mile (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

SPECIAL FEATURES: Making of; Rap battles; The Music of 8 Mile; Eminem 'Superman' music video; DVD ROM features; Regions 2/4.

CONTROVERSIAL rapper, Eminem, makes his bid for Big Screen stardom in Curtis Hanson’s absorbing triumph against the odds drama which surprises on many levels - not only because of the quality of its performances but also because it’s not more, well, controversial.

Given that the singer has developed a reputation for being outspoken throughout his career, it is a little perplexing to find the star being portrayed, on-screen, as a shy, caring, thinker - and all the more refreshing for it.

8 Mile could so easily have fallen into the trap set by so many singers-turned-actors, as they bid to break into a new medium by playing themselves, such as Britney Spears, for example. Yet while Hanson’s film certainly contains plenty of parallels to Eminem’s life, the quality of its direction and the strength of its writing make it something much more besides.

Advance hype from America has even suggested that Eminem’s debut could land him an Oscar nomination, although such predictions seem a little premature.

8 Mile is a much better film than its premise initially suggests. Set in the unforgiving town of Detroit (an area which promised much, but delivered very little to its young inhabitants), the film follows the story of Jimmy ‘Rabbit’ Smith, an aspiring songwriter, as he struggles to make a life for himself outside of the stifling environment of the metal-stamping factory where he works.

Forced to live with his luckless mother (Kim Basinger) in a trailer park on the wrong side of the 8 Mile road, Jimmy channels his anger and frustrations into his lyrics, but lacks the self-belief required to finally make a name for himself when it comes to performing live.

So far, so routine. One could even describe it as a Rocky set to rap (especially as the finale features a rap stand-off which bears all the hallmarks of one of the boxer’s title bouts).

Yet by surrounding himself with such heavyweight talent, Eminem actually floors the sceptics, turning in a winning performance in a film that works very well.

This is much less a showboating exercise in how to remain controversial, than it is about a young man trying to redefine himself, dispelling notions that he is a homophobe and a racist along the way.

Hanson (who made LA Confidential) wanted to create a movie that taps into the origins of hip-hop and maintains that the casting of Eminem lends the film a great deal of authenticity. And he is right, as 8 Mile is gritty, realistic and believable throughout.

Its story might not seem remarkable to movie-goers accustomed to seeing the underdog come good, but the style in which it is told is. And while Eminem may, ultimately, be playing a more politically correct version of himself, there is no denying the guy can act when he is called upon to do so.

Of the supporting cast, Basinger makes a suitably down-at-heel mother, while Brittany Murphy delights as an ambitious temptress, who finally provides Rabbit with the belief he needs to make a stand. The likes of Mekhi Phifer, Evan Jones and De'Angelo Wilson, as Jimmy’s friends, also register strongly.

But given that all eyes will be on Eminem, it is immensely satisfying to be able to report that he does not disappoint, standing out in a movie which works all the better for not giving in to cheap shots and easy showboating.

It is an assured and lively film that expertly taps into the hopelessness felt by one of America’s ‘forgotten’ generations, effortlessly conveying the anger that is so often expressed in their lyrics.

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