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Movie Review: 8 Mile

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8 Mile, directed by Curtis Hanson (Wonder Boys and L.A. Confidential), was released in 2002 and includes a strong cast starring Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, Eugene Byrd, Omar Benson Miller, Taryn Manning, Evan Jones. With Eminem’s song, “Lose Yourself”, wining an Academy Award for the Best Original Song, this marked 8 Mile as the first film to have a rap/hip hop song win an Academy Award.

8 Mile is not about Eminem's rise to stardom in the rap world, it is a story about one week in his life back in 1995, when he lived on 8 Mile Road, the name of a road in Detroit that marks a figurative and literal boundary between the haves and have-nots. 8 Mile chronicles a week of Eminem's life with his friends, family, and his personal drama that draws you in and leaves you on the edge of your seat, wondering what is going to happen next. So much transpires in this one week, you could only speculate what could happen in a month or more.

Eminem, real name Marshall Mathers (nick-named “B-Rabbit”), dreams of making it big as a hip-hop artist and begins this aspiration on the streets of inner city Detroit. “Rap battles” — which are kind of like two boxers where their goal is to “knock out” their opponent, but instead of using their fists, they use words — is where 8 Mile begins. In these battles, they pull no punches by using satire and insults as well as vulgar language in the form of rap lyrics, however to me this is less offensive than two boxers beating the shit out of each other with their fists.

With a flip of a coin, the rappers only have a few seconds to compose and 45 seconds to perform a rap that will verbally demolish their opponent and appeal to the audience. The opponent with the best delivery, lyrics, and crowd response usually wins. This is where Eminem gets his start in rap music and his first attempt in a “rap battle” is a complete disaster. As a white dude, Eminem gets no respect from the majority of the black audience and rappers; however, his “corner men” (friends who are interesting characters in and of themselves, played by Mekhi Phifer, Omar Benson Miller, De'Angelo Wilson) are loyal and very supportive of him and his talent.

Even though Eminem gets knocked down quickly in his first “rap battle”, he doesn’t throw in the towel. In the end, he gets back in the ring and knocks out the defending champion (played by Anthony Mackie) with a “combination” (series of punches thrown in sequence) of words, phrases, and rhymes. Eminem just may be the “southpaw” in this particular bout because instead of waiting for his opponent to verbally annihilate him, he beats him to the punch by rapping about his own inadequacies.

“This guy ain’t no motherfuckin MC, I know everything he’s about to say against me. I am white, I am a fucking bum, I do live in a trailer with my mom….”

He then takes his opponent by surprises by throwing a sucker punch. “Don’t ever try to judge me dude, you don’t know what the fuck I can do…but I know something about you….”

Eminem ends this bout with an upper cut and wins the championship by a majority decision; thus he finds respect in the Detroit rap scene and may have even gained some self-respect.

What I like about 8 Mile, other than the music and performances, was that this film exhibits more than Eminem's early start in rap music. It reveals social relationships and how they can have a negative or positive impact (sometimes both) in one’s life both short- and long-term, including a fling Eminem has with a girl named Alex (played by Brittany Murphy, one of my favorite actresses, who added spark and energy to the film).

While displaying the instability of Eminem's mother (played by Kim Basinger), this film gives insight into the hardship he must have endured as a child, which could explain why he is so intense and many of his lyrics are dark. The vulnerable side of Eminem was portrayed in the film via his affection for his little sister (played by Chloe Greenfield) and shines through (along with light and love) whenever he raps about his daughter.

8 Mile also illustrates the curse of poverty and Eminem's desire to escape. The best part of this film is that this particular week was pivotal to his life and his career as a rapper, a time of which Eminem realizes he must to take control of his own life if he wants to change his fate. Unbeknownst at that time, Eminem's fate is full of victory because he makes it big in the hip-hop and rap world, breaks through poverty, is a great father, and has recently overcome drug abuse. However, considering the undertone of aggravation and hostility presented in his new album, Relapse, Eminem may still face other battles that must be fought with more than fists and words–-but that’s just an observation.

I give 8 Mile four stars and the song “Lose Yourself” is awesome. At the end of the day (week or film), Eminem's performance was terrific and the rest of the cast was incredible, all of which helped make this film seem as real as the story itself — a story that proves we can change our fate, if we are willing!

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About Christine Lakatos