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Curtis Hanson And Eminem Put Out A Meaningful, Worthwhile, Formulaic Film. '8 Mile'

Feb 17, 2003 (Updated Feb 18, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:It's good.

Cons:You probably don't care.

The Bottom Line: If you are able to allow that there is any possible version of this movie you would enjoy, this is it.

2003 looks to be destined to go down in history as the year of the sequel. More sequels are coming out this year than I can remember ever being released in one year. In fact, it’s not even a close race. And, now that I think about it, 2003 might be the year that is the sequel to 2002, because if 2002 will be remembered as anything, it will be remembered as the year we saw more movies we’d already seen than any other. More importantly, it’s the year that more movies we’d already seen did quite well at the box office than any other.

The question then becomes, is it possible for something that is obviously ripped straight from the same old formula to be a ‘good movie’? I think the answer has to be yes. It depends on what’s being done with the formula, and if there is any real ‘use’ to the movie. ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, for instance, isn’t doing anything with its formula, and it’s basically a movie we never wanted to see the first time we saw it, countless ages ago. Likewise, ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ doesn’t move far from the formula, but at least it has its funny moments, and you can lose yourself in the chemistry of the actors. Still, it doesn’t really even attempt any value.

A few movies stand out though. ‘Pumpkin’ is just as formulaic as anything could be, but it’s doing something with it. It’s even deceptive about the fact. If you’ve seen just about any spy movie, then you’ve seen ‘The Bourne Identity’, but it’s doing things just different enough to make it worthwhile. (The alternate ending on the DVD, by the way, is so much better than the original ending it’s hard to put into words)

So, if we can put forward the idea that a movie we’ve seen a million times before can actually be good, I think it’s safe to say that '8 Mile’ is quite good. Believe me, I’m more surprised than you.

'8 Mile’ is the story of young, urban, wanna-be rapper Rabbit (Eminem), and his attempt to remove the ‘wanna-be’ from that description. His story revolves around a rap battle that takes place at a certain club on a semi-regular basis. This is where we bring in every sport/underdog movie ever made. Rabbit fails miserably in his first attempt at winning this battle, mainly due to his own self-esteem/self-conception, and the rest of the movie takes us on a ride that leads him to a more solidified idea of who he is. Thus giving him the ability to win. Yes, just like so many other movies.

When we meet Rabbit, he has just broken up with his girlfriend, and we find him ambling back toward his mother’s trailer. Mom (Kim Basinger) is not only living in a trailer and sleeping with a guy Rabbit went to school with, she’s also a bit off (or further off). This is where we bring in all the ‘unfortunate upbringing’ movies we’ve ever seen.

We follow Rabbit, and his collection of not-quite-amazing friends, as they try to deal with existence for a few days. Rabbit has confrontations with his mother’s boyfriend, the ‘competition’ rappers (these are the scenes from every Rocky movie, and all other movies of a similar vein where the opponents yell at each other for a bit so that everyone gets riled up), and just about everyone else, including himself and his friends.

It’s not really necessary to discuss the plot. Everyone knows it already, and from several angles. There’s a girl involved, there’s inner turmoil, and from the plot angle, you aren’t surprised by anything.

That said, I still maintain that '8 Mile’ is surprisingly good. Where a formula story like this can go right is in becoming a vehicle to deliver a relevant character (even a type of character in some circumstances) or a worthwhile statement of life. '8 Mile’ delivers on both counts. In fact, the movie ‘wins’ even further in that when all is said and done Rabbit knows he hasn’t actually won anything. In the lesser version of this movie (and the one we probably expect), Rabbit would walk away with the idea that he had done something interesting (in winning the rap battle), instead of thinking he had done something interesting (in realizing that winning the rap battle isn’t interesting).

It might come as quite a shock, but there are a certain number of people who think rappers, and people who like rap music, are stupid. '8 Mile’ is almost worth its existence (especially considering virtually every other movie starring a rapper) based on that fact alone. Almost, only because nothing could really be worth its existence solely on that basis. Whatever else '8 Mile’ may do, it delivers a certain portion of ‘rap culture’ as being intelligent. What some may mock as ‘lack of culture as culture’ isn’t really any different than the slacker Gen-X lack of culture as culture. It’s just different.

A lot of the credit for this movie being able to transcend its formula has to go to Eminem, and there has rarely been a sentence I wanted to say less. He’s not only surprising, he’s impressive. In fact, he’s really making Kim Basinger look bad. Be that as it may, the real nod of achievement has to go to Curtis Hanson’s direction (‘L.A. Confidential’, ‘The Wonder Boys’). This is a movie that, on paper, teeters on the edge, and could easily go the way of the laughably useless. The choices made in putting individual scenes together, the pacing, the shifts in mood, and the very obvious direction of the actors all come together to make the movie what it is.

We also get some fine work by the supporting cast, Kim Basinger (who is the female answer to Robert DeNiro, which is to say that she only knows how to do Kim Basinger impressions) notwithstanding. Mekhi Phifer (Television’s ‘E.R.’, ‘O’, ‘Impostor’) gives an excellent performance, even for him, and he’s quite good in general. That Eminem can pull off sharing a scene with him is further proof of his abilities. Brittany Murphy (‘Don’t Say a Word’, ‘Riding in Cars with Boys’) is not quite up to the rest of the main supporting cast, but she certainly isn’t bad.

'8 Mile’ is a tricky movie to review. If for no other reason, simply because, what’s the point? You know it’s about rap, and you know Eminem plays the main character. 99% of you have made up your mind right there, one way or the other. The one potential save is that, of course, it isn’t actually about rap. ‘Rocky’, similarly, isn’t actually about boxing, it just has boxing in it. Still, there are certain movies that seem to make reviews useless. People have made up their minds, and the reviews aren’t going to get many to do anything different.

For those few out there who are able to be reached by this (in a slightly different world I’m not convinced that even I would be one of those few), I highly recommend seeing this. It’s not one of the best movies of the year, but it is quite interesting, and extremely well done in any number of ways.

Recommend this product? Yes

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Controversial rapper Eminem (real name Marshall Mathers) makes his big screen debut with 8 MILE, a bracing drama directed by the increasingly audaciou...
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