November 14, 2002

Zero Mileagae

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8-Mile is perhaps better known among the cinematic audience at large as The Eminem Movie, and not without justification. As everyone knows, the film includes as its lead actor, the now seemingly multi-faceted Slim Shady, and delineates what many would assume to be a snapshot from the pop-culture icon’s life, circa 1995 in Detroit. 8-Mile is Eminem’s acting debut (if you don’t consider his general public appearances as a form of specialized acting) and, to put it frankly, he does it better than Britney Spears.

Basic plot: Jimmy (Eminem), or Rabbit as his friends call him, is the poor white kid living on the border of 8-Mile in Detroit. His friends (played by Mekhi Phifer, Evans Jones, Omar Benson Miller, and D’Angelo Wilson) know he’s talented but, in the opening scene of the film, he freezes on stage at the Shelter, a local venue that hosts weekly one on one freestyle battles. The remainder of the movie follows Rabbit’s life for the next couple weeks, from the steel pressing plant, to the trailer park. His family life is a mess, he has no money, and the only way out (both mentally and physically) is through the music. Rabbit’s choice becomes whether to settle for what he’s got (i.e. essentially nothing) or to act on his talents.

The film’s overall cinematography is dark and gritty, with not quite stable camera shots and no fantastic settings or effects. The result is interesting and almost documentary-like. However, it would most likely be a mistake to take this film as anything close to a documentary of Eminem’s life, or of the Detroit hip-hop scene in general. And therein lies the problem inherent in casting a pop-culture icon (especially one with as publicized a personal life as Eminem’s) in a major motion picture. The problem doubles when the main character in the movie is heavily based on the pop-icon himself. The question becomes whether the film should be taken as biography or as fiction? The answer, in this case, is probably somewhere in the middle.

Surprisingly, and perhaps that’s an unfair qualifier, Eminem pulls off the acting fairly well. He fits in with the other actors in the movie and is convincing, especially during his scenes with Chloe Greenfield, who plays his little sister, Lily, in the film. In these scenes Eminem presents another side to Rabbit’s personality, which is a welcome break from the stony, tough, chin-up expression that occupies his face throughout the rest of the film. Granted, the script really didn’t demand much more, but one has to wonder how much of that was due to the fact that the script was practically written for him.

The main criticism about 8-Mile is the pacing. The middle hour of the film drags, inexcusably. Rabbit and his friends ride around in their car, scheme about getting signed and making money, and scuffle with the other groups in the area. Bad thing after bad thing happens to Rabbit, personally, but he doesn’t seem to do anything about it. It’s obvious from the events themselves that Rabbit must be pressured to find a way out from his current condition, but his character never shows it. There doesn’t seem to be any tangible build up of tension, just a steady stream of bad luck.

Also, for a movie about a young musician, there’s a surprising lack of music in the film, aside from the soundtrack. Granted, there are the occasional freestyle scenes, including an appearance by Xzibit as a steel worker, but they’re altogether too short, and too far between. Personally, the reason I went to see the movie was for the scene in the preview with Rabbit on stage in front of a small, packed room, arm up, everyone following. That particular shot lasted about three seconds.

Still, the film exceeded stylistic expectations. But, that should be a given considering it was directed by Curtis Hanson (who also directed, produced, and co-wrote the Academy Award nominated film, L.A. Confidential) and produced by Brian Grazer (who won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2002 for A Beautiful Mind).

Finally, would this film have been as interesting if Eminem didn’t play the lead? I think not, but that’s not necessarily a negative comment. Eminem’s physical presence in the film, as strange as it may sound, lent to it a certain degree of authenticity which would not have been there had Rabbit been played by, say, Ryan Phillipe. That may seem a ridiculous example, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who could have pulled off the role with out seeming totally preposterous as a white hip-hop artist in Detroit.


Archived article by Thea Brown