8 Mile Review
By Joe Lozito
The stretch of inner-city road in Detroit labeled "8 Mile", which separates the white and black population, spawned the rap phenomenon Eminem. A product of a famously unhappy relationship with his single mother, the artist also known as Slim Shady was discovered while performing at rap "battles" - contests during which rappers compose rhymes on the spot to out-insult their opponents. Though in reality (and ironically) Eminem did not win his last battle, his story would seem like fine Hollywood fodder (comparisons to "Saturday Night Fever" and "Rocky" are anything but coincidental).
In striking contrast to his many hip-hop personae, Eminem is a reticent actor. He doesn't show much range - he is either pensive or raging, but rarely anything in between - but then again, the script doesn't give him much else to do. Each scene exists solely to stack the odds against his alter-ego, Jimmy "Bunny Rabbit" Smith Jr., before the final showdown.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to make an interesting movie out of characters that are largely directionless and the hour and a half of mounting obstacles - after which there is typically a shot of Rabbit staring mournfully - grows a more than a little repetitive and tiresome. Every time Rabbit comes home to his mother's trailer there is some other drama going on and almost all of them end with some kind of screaming match between mother and son in front of little daughter Lily. Kim Basinger re-teams with the director who won her an Oscar for "L.A. Confidential" to play Rabbit's mother, but Ms. Basinger is handed a role that is woefully overwritten. She might have been able to do a little more with the role had there been any subtlety to it.
Though the film sticks close to Eminem's life story, it is not a biography. Writer Scott Silver has chosen only pieces of Eminem's life to weave into his script (every other word of which has four letters and starts with an 'F') and it is those elements that are usually the most involving. In retrospect it seems like it might have been a better idea to farm Em's ample song catalog, the lyrics of which read as contained short stories. The fabricated devices - particularly the convenient love story with a local slut (a vacant Brittany Murphy) - distract from the otherwise gritty realism which the film achieves. This stark sense of place comes courtesy of director Curtis Hanson who has always shown a gift for setting atmosphere. Here, the 8 Mile Road appears relentlessly bleak and dangerous.
The scenes of freestyle rapping, and there aren't nearly enough, are the films highlights. The movie certainly delivers its catharsis in an electrifying final rap-off, but by that point the outcome is so telegraphed that the scene delivers little suspense. It is more just a pleasure to watch Eminem perform. He is fiercely talented and has a natural charisma; the camera loves him. But, like most of the story, we knew that before we saw the film.