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IN SHORT: Hardcore language. Hardcore excellent film. [Rated R for strong language, sexuality, some violence and drug use. 124 minutes]
Being that honesty is the best policy, let's get a couple of things straight. We dislike about 95% of whatever rap we've heard and avidly dislike 100% of all gangsta rap. Lyrical "content" excepted, it's a bastard form whose roots lay in ripping off hardworking musicians that had, in their own turn, been ripped off by scurrilous accountants and shady corporate music men. We don't have a high tolerance for attitude laden punks who, because for god knows what reason, have become "music" stars and we're more than bothered when these punks are worshiped like gods by pre-teen year old members of our immediate family. The language alone in this film justifies the [R] Rating.
When we heard the first grumblings of rap back in the mid 1980s, we knew it was time to get out of rock 'n' roll. So here we are, fifteen years later, with a story very loosely based on the origins of the rapper who would become Eminem -- emphasis on loosely as this is not a biopic. 8 Mile is the story of Jimmy Smith Jr., AKA Bunny Rabbit (Eminem). Living in the slums of 1995 Detroit, Rabbit is a white trash kid with a dull, sullen stare indicative of a building rage that you don't want to be near when it goes off. The kind of man who is the living embodiment of "Don't push me because I'm close to the edge". If you recognize that line from the earliest days of rap, then you're probably okay for 8 Mile, whose setting and events are so overwhelmingly negative that 100% of the folk we spoke with on the way out were astounded that they liked the film.
That astonishment includes us. Language aside, director Curtis Hanson (he of LA Confidential and Wonder Boys fame) and producer Brian Grazer (this time without longtime partner Ron Howard) have created a scenario, with writer Scott Silver, that allows any grownup to lock in on the absolute depression of living on the street. We've said it before and we'll repeat it now: you don't have to like what you see to understand why you don't like what you see. That you understand is the point of it all. We're not going to equate the acting talent of Marshall Mathers III -- Eminem -- to anything like a budding Olivier but it is more enough to make us believe the character he's playing.
When we first meet "Bunny Rabbit," he is about to make his stage debut in a Battle of the Rappers, emceed by David Porter, AKA Future (Mekhi Phifer), a friend and supporter and promoter at a local club slash dive called the Shelter. His girlfriend Janeane (Taryn Manning) has just become history. Since she may be knocked up, Rabbit gave her the car and stuffed all his stuff into a large Hefty bag.
Where, then, shall Rabbit go?
Like all his friends, it's time to go back to mom. Stephanie Smith (Kim Basinger), by the way, doesn't work in the traditional sense. She's applying her talents, and what's left of a drop dead gorgeous body, to making some lame-o called Greg Buehl (Michael Shannon) "happy". Greg's waiting on a big settlement check from a car accident and, once that comes in, Steph expects a ring and a better place to raise baby kidlet Lily, who's about four. In the meantime, there's always the hope of hitting BINGO at the local church.
As for Rabbit, there's a newer, hotter blonde giving him the eye, both at the club and at the metal stamping plant where they work. Alex (Brittany Murphy) tells the rapper in the making that she believes in him, even though she's boffing her way to the top of the modeling game and has set her sites on getting to New York, with the help of would be manager/promoter/ A&R slickster Wink (Eugene Byrd).
If it makes it easier to view 8 Mile solely as a battle of survival between street gangs, that isn't much off the money, though the "universe" created by this production is a lot deeper than that. Rabbit's crew, called "Three One Third" includes the emcee Future; oversized optimist Sol George (Omar Benson Miller); philosopher and big talker DJ Iz (De'Angelo Wilson), and comic relief (as in dumber than cheese) Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones), who that "third" of the crew. Cheddar would preferred to be called MC Bob even though he can't rap and he sure can't defend himself (as you'll see).
Opposite 3-1-3 in a kind of Jets versus Sharks way are King rapper Papa Doc (Anthony Mackie), and half a dozen or so gangsta types calling themselves Free World. The crews battle with fists from time to time, but mostly with strings of obscenities linked in rhyming raps flung from the stage of the Shelter.Like any poor gang, they talk the big talk. But when Rabbit's mom gets an eviction notice, it's just a matter of time until something will have to be done to get some cash. 'nuff said.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to 8 Mile, he would have paid . . .
Considering how much I detest rap I was very pleasantly surprised that I actually was able to follow more than fifty percent of 8 Mile. Yeah, I know it's technically "English" but it's all a foreign language for this old fart.
When you break it down for logic of story, absence of continuity errors, characters that stand out and the overall effectiveness of the story, even laden with more [expletive deleted]s than anyone we know would care for, 8 Mile stands out. Like it or not, it takes a place on our Best of the Year list.
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