Friday, June 27, 2014

8 Mile: 8 Miles High!

8 Miles High!
by Rusty White
reviewed: 2002-11-09

Rating: 3 & 1/2 STARS
Director: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer
Length: 1 hour 58 minutes
Rated: R

Controversial Rapper Eminem has pulled off a Howard Sternish cinematic makeover. The adored and reviled singer comes across strong, sympathetic, funny and surprisingly moral in Curtis Hanson's new film "8 Mile." As Stern did in the wonderful "Private Parts," Eminem forces closed-minded critics to give the man another look with "8 Mile" . Eminem plays "Rabbit," a blue-collar, trailer-trash working-stiff who dreams of someway out of his hellish existence. Rabbit sees Rap/Hip Hop music as his ticket out. In "8 Mile," Eminem is a sympathetic hero striving to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. The young singer's performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination. Eminem has been quoted as saying he doesn't intend to act again. That would be a shame, as he has a charismatic screen presence. Eminem is asked to carry this movie. For a first time actor his performance is remarkably seasoned. The naysayers might state that Eminem is just playing himself. Even if that is true, he still has charisma. The history of film is full of people just playing themselves. Many of them were never heard from again. Others, like Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart based long and lustrous careers on playing themselves.

Rabbit (Eminem) works at a metal pressing factory in Detroit. "Only ex-cons and welfare moms work there" says Rabbit's former classmate who is now his mother's lover. Rabbit breaks up with his girlfriend when she mentions the word "pregnant." He does leave her the car though. Rabbit is a cipher to those around him. His buddy, 'Future' (Mekhi Phifer) knows that Rabbit has what it takes to break out into the music business. Future hosts Friday night "Rap Battles" at a place called the shelter. A Battle consists of two Rappers facing off for 45 seconds of stylized insults. The crowd decides the winner. The film starts with Rabbit preparing to take part in his first battle. Rabbit chokes. The time isn't right. He has too much inner turmoil to let the beast loose on stage yet.

Rabbit only has one place to go, now that he has broken up with his girlfriend: home to the trailer park. Rabbit walks in on his mother Stephanie (Kim Basinger) as she is riding her unemployed lover on the livingroom couch. Ah, the joys of trailer park living. Rabbit's journey to the film's climatic "Rap Battle" is a baptism of fire, which will reveal Rabbit's individuality and inner strength. Eminem is amazing as his character faces temptations and bullshit from every corner. Rabbit doesn't always make the right decision, but like "Old Blue Eyes," he does it his way!

Director Curtis Hanson has an eye for the seedy side of life. "8 Mile" is set in a version of Detroit that is even uglier than the Detroit of "Robo Cop." The only thing that doesn't appear broken down in this city are the spirits of the film's main characters. The city is a Muse for Rabbit and the others. Their poetry from hell encapsulates all of the anger and woe produced by life on the edge of oblivion. In the film's funniest scene, Rabbit works on his mother's broken down car, while Future talks to him. Stephanie's lover sits in the trailer listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama." Rabbit and Future make up an ad-libbed tribute to Rabbit's predicament to the tune of the Skynyrd song. The song is hilarious and sad at the same time. Rabbit is able to laugh at the cards he has been dealt. Like everyone else in the movie, he wants out. Unlike everyone else in the movie, Rabbit has what it takes to get out.

The performances are uniformly fine. Kim Basinger grows more and more with each smart script she selects. She has that rode-hard, hung-up-wet quality which exists in the world of Jerry Spingerville. Brittany Murphy is hot as Alex, the sexy babe who will do whatever and whomever it takes to get a ticket to New York. The sex scene between Alex and Rabbit captures perfectly the unbridled passion of a spur-of-the-moment-rip-your-cloths-off quickie as any I have ever seen on film. Mekhi Phifer has a young David Keith quality. Phifer provides a rock-strong sidekick performance. Only Evan Jones as the doofy "Cheddar Bob" seems to be a stereotype. Cheddar Bob is there to provide comic relief. Maybe he is based on one of Eminem's friends.

"8 Mile" contains much profanity, however, the film is completely devoid of any of the lyrics which have caused Eminem to incur the wrath of parents and old-farts like myself. Ironically, Rabbit comes to the defense of the film's one gay character. This isn't to say that Rabbit is a saint, he isn't. Thank God for that. Eminem's Rabbit is a fully developed character that is reminiscent of the "angry young men" cycle of films, which came out of England in the early 1960s. Eminem delivers as strong a performance as Albert Finney in "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning," Richard Harris in "The Sporting Life" or Tom Courtney in "The Loneliness of the Long Distant Runner." "8 Mile" melds the fury of those films into the formula plot of "Rocky" to create the story of a hero you can't help but root for.

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