Since his breakthrough in the music industry in 1999, rapper Eminem has always been shrouded in controversy for his strong lyrics and defiant personality. He has consistently topped the charts and still shows no signs of fizzling. This is very apparent with the recent release of his first movie, “8 Mile,” which topped the box office during its opening week. For the most part, movies starring huge music stars are terrible in every way. But unlike stars such as Britney Spears and Mariah Carey, Eminem actually delivers a powerful, honest performance in a film of the very same nature.
Eminem plays Jimmy “Rabbit” Smith, a poor and troubled white kid growing up in a multi-racial neighborhood in Detroit. He lives in a trailer with his mom (Kim Basinger) and his younger sister Lily, who he is always trying to protect. They live near Eight Mile Road, a very poor, run-down area, and the dividing line between the inner city and the suburbs. Rabbit is an aspiring rapper, but every time he gets an opportunity to prove himself as an artist, he hesitates and fails. His friend, Future, (played impeccably by Mekhi Phifer) runs a place where people compete in rap competitions, and is frequently encouraging him to perform. Despite his upbringing, Rabbit is still hopeful that things will improve and recognizes the fact that he must overcome his own fears to achieve what he believes is possible.
From the opening moments of the movie, it becomes clear that Eminem can act. It must be taken into account that he is playing a character that isn’t too far off from his own background, but nonetheless he brings life to his character and the movie that few popular music stars have ever done in a film. Every move he makes, and every bit of dialogue he engages in, is completely natural, which to me says something.
It helps that he was under the direction of one of the best directors in the business, Curtis Hanson, who directed “L.A. Confidential” and “Wonder Boys,” both wonderful films. Hanson has a natural feel for shot design and, among other things, can capture an atmosphere beautifully through lighting, production design and music. “8 Mile” is no exception. Hanson’s locations for shooting are a perfect backdrop for his characters and story. Production designer Phillip Messina and cinematographer Rodrigo Pieto (“Amores Perros”) can be credited for the film’s unique atmosphere as well. Hanson’s ability to stage conversations between characters combined with the talents of his production team is what gives this film its richness. Eminem naturally provides the film with original music and altered a few of his own songs to fit the tempo of a particular scene. The music becomes just another element that adds to an already unique mix of factors, since, after all, music has a lot to do with the narrative.
While I credit Eminem for a good performance, the movie works because of Curtis Hanson. Had he not been involved in the project, it could have been a disaster. In the hands of a lesser director, the film would have been clichÃ©d and more closely related to the films of those other music stars. The plot itself isn’t the beauty of this film; it is relatively straightforward. What makes this film so unique is how the story is brought to life through acting, lighting, music and, of course, directing. The plot is simple, but the story is rather astonishing.