starring Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer
screenplay by Scott Silver
directed by Curtis Hanson
by Walter Chaw I was of a mind once that Kim Basinger is pretty good at playing a milquetoast and a sexual victim (I liked her in 9½ Weeks, and she won the Oscar, after all, for L.A. Confidential), but I stand corrected. As a milquetoast sexual victim (not to Eminem, surprisingly) and mother to a steel worker-cum-rapper, Ms. Basinger's every moment in Curtis Hanson's 8 Mile is a moment that the film, an otherwise serviceable underdog Flashdance intrigue, grinds to a halt. In reprising her abominable cornpone accent from the aptly named No Mercy, she fails to understand that "country-fried bayou redneck" makes a lot less sense in the liminal "8 Mile" section of Michigan than it does in New Orleans.
Rabbit (Eminem, a.k.a. Marshall Mathers III, a.k.a. The Real Slim Shady) plays Eminem, a white rapper from a disadvantaged background (read: "double-wide trailer") who may or may not be ironically linked to John Updike's cultural prism "Rabbit" by a Scott Silver script altogether too convinced of its own importance as, yes, a looking glass for our society. It places Rabbit in a Jennifer Beals situation as an iron-worker wanting more from his life, and so he pursues the performing arts, spending nights in a sleazy warehouse-turned-nightclub not stripping (though we do get to see his hind-quarters), but engaged in aggressive rap competitions. The racial complications of a white boy playing in a black man's milieu are touched upon in the lightest possible way, the ultimate triumph of our protagonist never a question and, in truth, a Pyrrhic one besides.
Into Rabbit's life comes Alex (Brittany Murphy, always cast as either a strumpet or a mental patient), a strumpet looking for a ticket to New York on the arm of anyone who might deliver her. (The two engage in one of the most ill-advised sex scenes in film history--the stuff for which those cautionary diagrams on heavy machinery are made.) Murphy looks good, in other words, though as a narrative device, she's no Michael Nouri. Rabbit's friends include the ambitious one, Future (Mekhi Phifer), then the fat one, the retarded one, and the opportunistic one to serve as the catalyst for act three. After choking at the rap contest that opens the film, Rabbit has the rest of 8 Mile to find inspiration for the one that closes the film. In between: Rabbit fights with his trashy mom; is very nice to his little sister; beats up his mom's boyfriend; gets beaten up by the bad guys--evil because they notice that Rabbit is a cracker; and pointedly gets to proclaim his love of homosexuals in one of the more embarrassing self-referential idol-moments of the film. I guess Elton John was right--now let's talk about the misogyny.
8 Mile is salvaged to some degree by Rodrigo Prieto's (Amores Perros, Frida) gritty, colour-bleached cinematography and, of course, by Hanson's unerring feeling for story and pace. The film has a logic to it even if it doesn't have very much cohesive momentum (and the idea of attack rap is one that's intriguing for someone like myself, whose knowledge of the genre begins and ends with a few weeks spent with the first Public Enemy album). Alas, "logic" gives way at some point to "formula" and 8 Mile, by its crowd-pleasing finale, is well on its way to becoming redundant at best and facile at worst. Credit is due Eminem, however, for successfully choosing the right vehicle for himself his first time out--it took Adam Sandler about a decade, after all.
by Bill Chambers There are three other incarnations available (full-frame, full-frame with censored bonuses, widescreen with censored bonuses), but we received for review the widescreen version of 8 Mile on DVD containing uncensored bonuses. Tech quality is outstanding: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is crisp without edginess and faithfully muted--the grit of Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography luckily hasn't undergone any extra treatment to make it more cloying for DVD. An impressive, celluloid-like image. Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes are attached, the latter achieving tighter bass and better transparency; through no fault of these awesome soundtracks are the bookend rap-offs incomprehensible. Although there is some sidewall imaging during the climactic club sequence that, for calling more attention to the discrete rear channels, is less effective in Dolby than it is in DTS, both listening options are occasionally very enveloping.
Extras on this edition include a 10-minute puff piece ("The Making of 8 Mile") that, like the film it examines, couldn't care less about the women involved--Brittany Murphy is barely heard from and Kim Basinger is AWOL. "Exclusive Rap Battles: 'Battle Rhyme for Reel Time'" (24 mins.) documents a contest held for the film's extras in which the prize was a chance to rap alongside Eminem in a free-style duel that would possibly wind up in the final cut. There were 140 sign-ups narrowed down to 20 and then 4 competitors; director Curtis Hanson narrates the piece and attempts to give it a bit of urgency in stressing the unscheduled nature of 'the contest scene,' which limited every face-off to a single take. Sociologically intriguing (the one female contestant flops utterly, and each contender has a unique set of verbal crutches), "Battle Rhyme for Reel Time" alas ends too abruptly, perhaps to smooth over the sense that this was a noble yet failed effort to bait a talent pool and give concrete ambition to rising black talent."The Music of 8 Mile" links to commercials for both of the film's soundtrack albums as well as a separate chapter menu that jumps to your favourite song from the picture. Rounding out the respectable platter: 8 Mile's theatrical trailer (in DD 5.1); on-screen production notes; cast/filmmaker bios and career highlights; some ROM-enabled, web-based Total AXess features (additional interview scraps and the like); and the exclusive video for Eminem's latest self- pitying/aggrandizing cut, "Superman" (sample lyric: "They call me Superman/Leap tall ho's in a single bound"), which boasts of gratuitous nudity from porn star Gina Lynn--hence the reason you're not seeing it in rotation on MTV. Originally published: March 19, 2003.