8 Mile Review
"Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant...to me, you see/Straight up racist that sucker was, simple and plain/Mother... him and John Wayne" - Public Enemy, Fight The Power from the Fear Of A Black Planet Album
Chuck was later to revise this view, saying that, "...there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis...As a black people, we all knew that" and Chuck D confirmed the opinion of many in saying that Eminem, nom de rap of Marshall Mathers, was the new Elvis. Were that to be the case, there can be no doubt that 8 Mile is the equivalent of a well-regarded Elvis movie such as Jailhouse Rock or King Creole but the question ought to be asked as to when Eminem is going to make his Live a Little, Love a Little, Clambake or Double Trouble?
8 Mile stars Eminem as Jimmy 'B-Rabbit' Smith, a would-be rapper in Detroit who, as the film opens, has just been kicked out of the flat he shared with his girlfriend to whom he has given his car, lost his job at the pizza parlour in which he was working and has turned up at the trailer park where his mother, little sister and his mother's boyfriend (an old school buddy of B-Rabbit's) live. Worst of all, however, was that he had just choked in a rap battle at The Shelter run by his friend Future (Phifer) and as this event is his only ticket out of Detroit, B-Rabbit's life is spiraling even further down.
B-Rabbit gets a new job at a machine-pressing plant but immediately runs into trouble when he shows up late. He does, however, get a new girlfriend, Alex (Murphy) and continues to hang out with this friends Future, Cheddar Bob (Jones), Sol George (Miller) and DJ Iz (Wilson), who spend their free time cruising around the slums of Detroit in their beaten-up old cars, drinking, smoking dope, starting fires in abandoned buildings and doing freestyle rapping in car parks. B-Rabbit's only hopes lie with the rap battles run in The Shelter but which he's reluctant to return to, and the offer of free studio time from Wink (Byrd), whose association with another freestyle rap gang, The Free World, threatens his relationship with Alex, his hope of recording a demo and his life.
Eminem was born Marshall Mathers in St. Joseph near to Kansas City but spent his childhood years moving between there and Detroit, eventually recording a debut album for a local label in 1996, which received largely negative reviews. Considering this a major setback, Mathers, then calling himself M&M, went back into battle rapping at clubs in Detroit and held down a job during the daytime to support his girlfriend, Kim, and their daughter. In 1997, Kim kicked him out and he was forced to move back to his mother's house where she (Debbie Nelson) was accused of physically and mentally abusing Mathers' younger brother. Mathers became increasingly bitter at the position he found himself in and after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, this anger spilled over into his rapping, which became more and more focused on his girlfriend, mother and dead-end life. Still, Mathers always had the rap battles at the clubs in Detroit and he eventually got his shot at recording a demo - the Slim Shady EP, recorded under the name Eminem.
So, any connection between film 8 Mile starring Eminem and his reality of growing up in Detroit? Uh...do you think so? Or is it that 8 Mile represents a picture of Eminem that the rap star would like us to see? There is no doubt that reading any detailed biography of Eminem's formative years make for a depressing reading but it is one that is lived by the millions of people, the majority of whom are black, that inhabit American's inner cities. In some respects, 8 Mile has done little more than appropriate the plot from Saturday Night Fever, replacing a disco soundtrack for rap, although both forms of music are notable for being an urban mix of dance, rock and funk - one of the late-70's, the other of the late-90's/early-00's. The success of both films in their own eras is helped no end by the fact that Saturday Night Fever and 8 Mile are rather generic tales of disaffected youth stuck in pointless jobs from 8am 'til 8pm, Monday to Friday. Even when work is over, B-Rabbit and Tony Manero face only the prospect of going back to a dysfunctional family home and their only relief from this existence are in their relationships with Alex and Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney), respectively, and the moments in which they shine before their peers - B-Rabbit has his rap battles at The Shelter and Manero on the dancefloor at the disco. Where the similarities fail to end are in the sense that whilst Nik Cohn - original author of Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night, the New Yorker magazine story on which Saturday Night Fever was based - has admitted making the whole thing up, 8 Mile serves only to reinforce the rather unlikely thought that on every street corner in urban America, there is a fast-rapping, thrust-and-parry lyricist just waiting to be discovered.
Anyone living within towns and cities in the Home Counties will shudder at the thought of a generation of hoodie-wearing white boys rapping the equivalent of the disco jive that followed the con of Saturday Night Fever in deserted car parks, street corners and at war memorials .
There is also, however, the sense that whilst 8 Mile wishes to be thought of as the Saturday Night Fever for the rap crowd, it is often rather more a case of wax on, wax off, Eminem-san! Check this...Ralph Macchio played Daniel LaRusso, living at home with his mother when he happens to get into a fight with Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), a local karate champ and member of the Cobra Kai. Daniel really ought to leave these guys alone but he keeps getting involved, particularly when his girlfriend is still friendly with Johnny. Stuff happens and it all ends up at the All-Valley Karate Championship where Daniel will face Johnny in the final but will have to see off two of his mates in the Cobra Kai first. Danny wins - good news all around! Compare this to 8 Mile, in which B-Rabbit chokes when up in the rap battle, eventually won by The Free World (the Cobra Kai of 8 Mile). B-Rabbit, despite the dangers to his health, such as being shot, continually gets into both lyrical and physical scraps with The Free World on more than one occasion as well as having his girlfriend involved with Wink who spends his free time with cruising with The Free World. Making sense yet? Finally, all of B-Rabbit's roads lead to the rap battle at The Shelter, clearing two minor players in The Free World, Lotto and Lyckety-Splyt (Nashawn 'Ox' Breedlove and Strike, respectively) before facing off against Papa Doc (Anthony Mackie), the leader of The Free World. C'mon, there's no question of the similarities. Okay, so no Kreese or Mr Miyagi but otherwise, it's all there.
The problem with the film is that it fails to make any points beyond what is, at heart, a simple tale of a loser turned into someone who, well...is a bit less of a loser for one night. It doesn't have the conviction to risk it all like Rocky, for example, to show that as good as the underdog might be, they might simply not be good enough. Similarly, there's little the film has to say regarding the problems facing black youth in America's inner-cities with B-Rabbit's friends being little more than props he occasionally needs for emotional support and the film can occasionally leave a nasty aftertaste as regards the appropriation of rap into white mainstream culture. There is little doubt that Eminem is more aware of the issues surrounding race and rapping than any white rapper before him, even singing about it on Without Me, "I'm not the first king of controversy/I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley/To do black music so selfishly/And use it to get myself wealthy" so it must, therefore, be down to Scott Silver and Curtis Hanson, the writer and director, respectively, who have Eminem's friends so badly developed - his black friends, other than Future, are caricatured as Fat One and Preachy One with The Free World dressed identically as well as being unidentified as individuals until the very end, reinforcing the idea of faceless gangs of black, inner-city kids set out to cause havoc. Possibly, that's coming on a little too much like Hooper, the black militant from Chasing Amy but the sight of Curtis Hanson, onstage and talking to the audience at The Shelter shows all the understanding of a rich, white tourist asking, "Whatup, G? I'm down wid the niggaz!" whilst holding his crotch through a brand new pair of outsized jeans.
Still, the music is good throughout, if rather predictably being a mix of Dre-influenced rap from Eminem, D-12, Cypress Hill and Xzibit but actually containing nothing from Dre himself although it does play host to the rather wonderful Lose Yourself. There is, however, a funny and crafty use of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama over which Eminem and Phifer rap about the former's domestic situation. As for the language, well the swear-o-meter was redlined from the off with the 'motherbanger' count so high that if you're taking notes, get a big abacus ready!
Sadly, the film ends without hinting at what happens next, which only serves to manipulate the audience's emotions yet further. As B-Rabbit nonchalantly strolls down an alleyway, superbly framed and beautifully lit within the high brownstone walls on either side on his way back to complete his shift at the steelworks, the Eminem story doesn't say that he made it up once again with Kim, who he married in 1998, following the signing of a deal with Interscope at the heeding of rap super-producer Dr. Dre who worked with Eminem on the recording of his debut album, the Slim Shady LP, a vicious and bitter recording borne out of his life in Detroit. Eminem followed up with The Marshall Mathers LP in 2000, a guest appearance on Dr. Dre's 2001 and with The Eminem Show in 2002, all the while recording songs like Kim, in which he vividly imagined murdering his wife, and Cleanin' Out My Closet that told of his difficult childhood and a hatred that he still feels toward his mother. Despite the portrayal here of Eminem being a homophile, not to mention an earlier appearance with Elton John at the Grammy's, he continues to have his minders threaten Moby, including saying, "...that little Moby girl threw me out of my game...I will hit a man with glasses" during an acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards and all because of an article posted by Moby on his website asking for artists such as Eminem to consider their lyrics more carefully given the sociological impact of rap music.
Like the sight of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart crying crocodile tears and asking for forgiveness and understanding in 1988 after being discovered visiting a prostitute, this appears to be little more than a biopic whereby Eminem asks the audience for their sympathy in a bid to move out of being thought of as no more than a homophobic, misogynistic rapper. In knowing that his colour has already opened up rap markets previously disconnected from black youth, Eminem now asks us to understand his rage and in ridding himself of these demons through both his records and this film, be assured that phase two of the Eminem plan is being considered - when even grandmas know who he is, the safer Eminem, complete with love songs, a social conscience and stable relationship, is surely now being prepped for release. 8 Mile seems like only the first installment.
8 Mile has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and looks great. Curtis Hanson has used Rodrigo Prieto, the cinematographer of Amores Perros, who has filmed 8 Mile in a sharp yet gritty style with copious use of backlighting to complement the largely night-time shooting schedule. At times, it can appear to be as beautifully shot as Blade Runner, with both films making extensive use of an urban location without making it depressingly familiar.
8 Mile comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS Surround audio tracks and whilst the former is good, the latter is quite outstanding. The DD5.1 track is a little thin at the top end, which lets it down when so much of the music in 8 Mile is bass-heavy hip-hop but the DTS track is warm, rounded and punchy, with the bass weighted just right. A good example in the difference between the DD5.1 and DTS treatment of bass is when the jeep in which The Free World cruise around town pulls up with the in-car hi-fi playing. The DD5.1 is capable enough of handling the bass, reducing the treble sufficiently but the DTS track captures the dull thud of the song heard within a locked car just right.
8 Mile comes with a fair number of features but little that will really hold a long-term interest:
Making Of (10m03s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Curtis Hanson and Eminem are the main interviewees in this short making-of, filmed on-set, which backs up the idea that this is a sympathetic portrayal of Eminem's youth.
Exclusive Rap Battles (23m40s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): With the audience of extras in The Shelter getting bored during days of filming, Curtis Hanson started to hold freestyle rap contests with the three finalists facing off against Eminem in a rap battle. So, it does occur but Hanson warns Eminem to save his voice and to mime but when the crowd begins to jeer, it turns from fakery to reality with Eminem battling against the newcomers. This isn't a bad extra but it does smack of a Big Brother show whereby they show the unsuccessful applicants. It really only gets interesting in the last eight minutes or so as the finalists take to the stage against the star of the movie.
Music Of 8 Mile (8x Still Images, 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This bonus feature begins with a few still screens listing the contents of the two soundtrack albums but concludes with a 'jump to a song' feature whereby viewers can select a song from the soundtrack and be taken to the scene in the film where they song is played.
Original Theatrical Trailer (2m18s, 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic, 5.1 Surround): This is a brief summary of the film backed by the theme song from the film, Eminem's Lose Yourself.
Eminem 'Superman' Music Video (5m02s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This is a terrible song with Eminem trying to sing, reminiscent of nothing so much as the shamed Milli Vanilli - why do rap stars try to sing?. The video is equally awful.
DVD-ROM Content: This takes you to the 8 Mile website so an Internet connection is required although when I tried to connect to what I can only assume is exclusive content, the website said that my access was denied. Once again, some DVD-ROM content is pushed onto DVD along with the Interactual viewer without being properly tested.
Like Prince starring in Purple Rain, being another musician whose first starring role was in a film that reflected his well-publicised formative years, Eminem has had a team of sympathetic filmmakers develop a story in which his hot-tempered, white-trash Slim Shady character comes across as the victim of bad luck and circumstance. You suspect that those who knew Marshall Mathers during the years reflected here, such as his ex-wife or estranged mother, would be keen to balance 8 Mile with another version of the truth and that the facts would emerge out of the mix - one doubts that they have been presented here.
This isn't a bad movie by any means in that it's made well, looks good, the plot is basically sound and the final rap battles are quite exciting as Eminem trades verbal punches with Lyckety-Splyt, Lotto and Papa Doc but until that moment, it's a rather hollow affair. The actors, notably Eminem, are quite capable of exuding the feeling of boredom needed when playing characters yet to pass the emotional maturity one reaches at the age of sixteen but such sympathetic characters, being little more than sulking teenagers, will leave you with the feeling that maybe the odd drive-by wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Whilst you increasingly suspect that with LA Confidential, Curtis Hanson just got really lucky, it would appear that Eminem will be back in films designed to appeal to a growing market for his music and will, no doubt, bring much of the comedy he aims for in his music videos into his next movie. As to whether it's his Under The Cherry Moon, remains to be seen.