I have heard a couple of Eminem songs. My impression of this rap singer is
summed up in one line in this film when he refers to a homosexual in both candid
and politically correct terms. In other words, I sense Eminem's purpose is to
address society's problems, familial conflicts and outright hypocrisy in
everything we do. Some of that comes through in "8 Mile," his first leading role
in a film, but the rest feels as disconnected as the main character does.
Eminem plays Jimmy "Rabbit" Smith, a rap artist in the making who works at a
Detroit metal-stamping factory (the kind of place where ex-convicts work). He
lives in a trailer with his lethargic, alcoholic mother, Stephanie (Kim
Basinger) and his 5-year-old sister, Lily (Chloe Greenfield). His mother is
dating a guy who was a former classmate of Rabbit's. Needless to say, Rabbit
does not approve but he doesn't have to say so - his body language and frequent
stares say it all.
Rabbit's world looks hopeless. He works long hours at the factory. He can't
muster the courage to perform at a rap contest organized by MC Future (Meki
Phifer) - the first time he comes onstage, he merely looks at the audience who
boos him. His electric lyrics come through in impromptu raps at garages or at
the factory. Rabbit has the talent to not only improvise - he can also mock his
own life as a white-trash boy in such a way that his sincerity cuts through any
rival rapper's ability to one-up him.
"8 Mile" works when focused on Rabbit's rapping interludes, and the coup de
grace is seeing the climactic showdown where he tries to one-up another rapper
whom you are sure has torn him to shreds. Never before have verbal duels been
handled so thrillingly, and director Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential") has the
right directorial attitude to handle it. But when we resort to Rabbit's home
life, his sexual dalliance with a wanna-be model (Brittany Murphy), and his
constant bickering with Future and a possible record deal with a hustler (Eugene
Bird), we feel about as bored stiff as if it was a second-rate TV-movie
treatment of the same material. Particularly grating is to see Eminem give
blank-faced reactions in almost every close-up (a similar problem pervaded
"Purple Rain"). He has a solid, commanding presence but as an actor, he is
virtually stolid. When he sees his ex-girlfriend in her apartment watching
television, we see nothing but vacuousness in Eminem's eyes. It is a shame
because there is more to Eminem than meets the eye but we never see it, we only
hear it in his music.
Kim Basinger is not as bad as expected, though at times her accent borders on a
Southerner's tongue - clearly not Detroit material. Still, she is not an
embarrassment and chooses to tone down her usual overly-hysterical emotions when
crying out for help. But the scene where she wins big at a bingo game feels out
of place - she looks like a hooker rather a woman who just won money and bought
bags of groceries.
Watching "8 Mile" is a curious experience. It has the roots of Rabbit's rise to
the rap scene but none of the vigor or juice that we can connect with to
understand his need to move forward, to escape. I assume the teenage and the
twentysomething crowd may enjoy it regardless (my mother is a big fan). I think
he has talent to spare but I am in the minority when it comes to appreciating
rap music (I never have but times do change). Still, Eminem and the movie seem
half-hearted, and I felt likewise.
Copyright © 2002 Jerry Saravia