8 Mile showcases Detroit hip-hop

John Hult

John Hult

A remote familiarity with the work of Eminem is probably enough to predict the outcome of?or to predict each moment of?8 Mile, his semi-biographical screen debut. But it doesn’t matter.

So what if most of the things that happen to B. Rabbit?the hard-luck, aspiring rapper Eminem plays in the film?are telegraphed by Scott Silver’s script, the moments almost always prove to be genuinely entertaining.

There are several reasons for this. First off, Curtis Hansen’s direction is razor-sharp, bringing an air of moderation to the more outrageous moments (such as when B. Rabbit and his 313 crew blast a Detroit police cruiser with paintballs) and takes chances on scenes that may not have worked without some innovative visual techniques (such as B. Rabbit’s real-time on-the-job quickie with aspiring model Alex, played by Brittany Murphy).

Murphy, channeling Courtney Love, is as effective as Kim Basinger’s manic depressive mother. Mekhai Phipher also does fine work as Future, a host of rap battles who encourages his friend Rabbit to take to the stage to take on Free World, a rival group of Detroit MCs.

The film, named for the road that seperates the white and black ghettos of Detroit, was shot on location using hand-held cameras to help give it the ugly grey charcoal mood that highlights Rabbit’s progressively urgent situation.

The cast and the sets they find themselves in are painfully authentic an realistic-looking. Their clothes are dirty. The characters look worn and tired when you would expect them to. The old, rusty cars roll through streets filled with garbage.

Realism is a neccessity for a film like 8 Mile. Without a convincing setting, the predictability of the film would have weighed it down and made it look like a more perverse and profane after-school special than a piece of commentary.

The greatest factor that keeps the movie from becoming too formulaic?not surprisingly?is its charismatic star.

The direction matters. The strong supporting cast helps a lot. The drop dead accuracy of the settings and the music that define the film’s painting of the Detroit landscape circa 1995 are huge pluses.

None of this would matter, however, if Eminem couldn’t pull through. It’s only natural to be skeptical of the uber-controversial rapper’s acting skills. I certainly was. Six weeks of acting training and playing a younger version of himself probably helped, but Hollywood is full of musicians who couldn’t play themselves to a hidden camera (think Mandy Moore, Britney Spears or Lance Bass), so the Shady one deserves credit for doing the job right.

8 Mile is not quite perfect, though. The first half hour or so meanders along at a snail’s pace, some plot points?like Rabbit’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend?and the dialog is often overpowered by the soundtrack.

Still, 8 Mile is probably the best hip-hop movie ever made and could help to show more traditional mainstream America something that its younger generation has known for decades – that the genre is indeed an incredibly viable artform with more truth than its comfortable critics often care to admit.

If the children of those critics can drag them to a “hip-hip” movie, that is.

4 stars