Wednesday, November 23, 2011

8-Mile


2002, Curtis Hanson - DVD

While having dinner with the neighbours a few months back, we got on the topic of films and somehow onto the subject of 8-Mile. I had explained that, despite whatever accolades it may have received, I could not get past the Eminem barrier, since I've always found him to be unlikeable, unsympathetic, and, frankly, I don't like his flow. He was -- alongside Biggie, Tupac, Snoop and Dre -- a herald of the hip hopocalypse which saw "gangsta" and "hardcore" rap push consciousness hip-hop out of the limelight, and the mainstream rap world has largely since devolved into lowest common denominator music glorifying money, drugs, crime and sex over anything resembling actual moral integrity or values. Long story short, my neighbour told me to give "8-Mile" a shot, saying she was honestly surprised by it, and appreciated both the examination of a decaying Detroit and the rap-battle underground. Thrusting a copy of the film in my hands, I promised I would watch it, and here we are.

8-Mile was the third in a trilogy of unsuspecting, yet higher profile "thinking" films from director Curtis Hanson. In the 5 years prior to deciding to work with Eminem on a quasi-biographical film, he had adapted James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential to screen followed by an adaptation of Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys, both of which were well received critically... plus I liked them both quite a bit as well, so I knew if 8-Mile would have a saving grace it was that it was in the Hanson's hands.

In watching the film, I tried to be as objective as possible, letting any of my past preconceptions of Eminem: rapper/obnoxious personality slide away and instead take in "Marshall Mathers: actor", and to his credit he wasn't all bad, a little stiff at times but he surprisingly held the film. However I don't think he brought enough of an emotional core to the film, thus matching the film's rusted and gray, washed out visual aesthetic.

The rhythms of the story, based on the old "Great White Hope" formula, so it's rather contrived but a well-weathered trope to still be engaging in the hands of a good filmmaker. To Hanson's credit he does what he can with what he has, which is a middling script, a non-actor as a lead and a Detroit backdrop. The latter is the most potent element of the film, the unheralded supporting player, a depressed shithole populated by ex-cons and gangs of 20-somethings looking for any way out. In another movie, the "way out" would be boxing, or basketball, or football, or a math scholarship, or whatever maguffin the characters all chase. Here it's a recording contract, a chance to be heard. Here it's winning a rap battle and proving that you are worthy of freedom.

Eminem's Rabbit (that's his character's name) seems almost singularly focussed on himself despite having a drunk mother, a neglected little sister, and a pack of well-meaning but ill prepared for the future friends. He receives a love interest by way of Brittany Murphy (RIP), who apparently is on her way to model in New York, which I assume means either stripping or American Apparel ads by her usual disheveled crack whore appearance. They have a torrid romance which consists of sex behind some factory machinery and an unexpected drop in at his mom's trailer.

His mother, meanwhile, is a mean, mean drunk, sleeping with a kid Rabbit knew from high school in hopes that when his accident settlement money comes in he'll taker her with him to an easier life. Her story ends with her hitting it big at Bingo, showing that a little luck is all it takes for life to turn around and is the hoariest cliche of them all.

The rap battles are quite entertaining, though at no point do I actually believe Eminem is the best of the best. They hype it up so much in the film that there's really no way he can be, right? Well, yeah, but the film still tries to make you believe that the kid is by far the brightest star in the city and it's almost insulting in doing so.

The only positive element is the ending (and no, not because it ends) but because it ends on the message (although it's in stark contracts to his mother's reversal of fortune) that life doesn't just hand you a victory, but you have to earn it. And to succeed, you have to work hard for it. So, that's something at least.

Ultimately, it was as I expected, well made, passably engaging, but not great.