|In My Opinion: 8 Mile|
By Movie Columnist JR Wright
While sitting in the theatre, waiting for "8 Mile" to begin, a silent chant began to play itself over and over in my head. That chant went something along the lines of "Know Thy Enemy." For as a liberal gay man, trying to figure out life, Eminem has always stood for hatred, an example of the media exploiting extremists, and everything that I have ever feared about our 1st amendment, the freedom of speech. At the end of 118 mins, I went out and bought the soundtrack. Regardless of what you have heard, or as I did, assumed, "8 Mile" is not the story of Eminem, and his rise from his hard Detroit upbringing to international recording star. "8 Mile" is a brilliantly directed, carefully acted movie that celebrates the power of friendship, the cathartic need for a creative outlet, and the importance of words.
"8 Mile" has a great respect for words. I went into the film with very little appreciation of rap music, and very little to no desire to try and understand it. To me, it was always an angry medium that wanna-be musicians used as a means to get famous. If there is one thing that "8 Mile" teaches its audience, its the vast difference between a good rapper, and a lousy one. The most riveting scenes of the movie take place during rap contests, aka battles between locals rappers, where they pretty much tear into one another with improvisational riffing. The movie is a buildup to these scenes, where Eminem, most prominently a rapper, not an actor, shines the brightest. By the end of the movie, you realize that the path to becoming a great rapper is paved with intelligence. While other rappers tend to go for the reliability of racial jokes or insults, Jimmy Smith Jr (Eminem) chooses a different route, one that will ultimately lead him out of his Detroit upbringing. His rapping is a life force, a vitality, that he takes seriously, and when lets loose is no different in his power, then watching Elvis do "Jailhouse Rock."
This is not to take anything away from his performance in this movie. He handles his acting scenes quite admirably, and has a gift to tuning in to what is going on around him at all times. Watching him watch others is hypnotic, his stare is more then just a blank look, it is a defensive mechanism to mask emotion, a register to his surroundings, and the clearest window to what it is he is not saying, all wrapped into one. It is almost ironic that the icon we know as Eminem, who seems to trust none, and plays by his own rules, seems to have invested so much in his director, the increasingly versatile Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys). For Eminem is playing a character, and is not afraid to let himself be vulnerable, most evident in a scene between himself and his little sister Lily (Chloe Greenfield).
The supporting cast is wonderful. Kim Basinger, looking beautiful does some nice work as Jimmy's mother. Brittney Murphy, plays it simply, and comes off quite well as Jimmy's love interest. But it is the relationship between Jimmy and his friends that gives the movie its heart. Ironically enough, the relationship between Jimmy and his long time friend Future (Mekhi Phiffer) is the most touching of the bunch. The two have an easy rapport and it is Future's faith in Jimmy that pushes the rapper forward. In a world that is fueled by anger and tearing one another down, their relationship is refreshing and the only comfort that Jimmy seems to find offstage.
You have seen this
kind of movie before. This is not the first "go for broke" movie out
there (think a dirtier, angrier "Flashdance"). But like any movie
that is passionate about its subject, it has soul, and a lot of it. By the end
of the movie, I felt foolish for assuming that I was going to see this movie
to "Know Thy Enemy." As one of the characters says to Future of Jimmy
at the beginning of the movie "Your friend has an attitude problem."
Yeah, he does. But by the end, you understand why, or at least you are willing
to try and understand why. Art is meant to transport us, to make us take a look
at things and by the end, possibly think of them a little differently. As I
sit here with my "8 Mile" soundtrack playing, mixed in amongst the
showtunes, I stand transported. And that alone makes "8 Mile" a piece
of art. But that's just me.
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