USA 2002 : Curtis Hanson : 110mins
MOTOWN JUNK : 8 MILE
by Neil Young
The summer of 2002 saw top-selling recording artiste Britney Spears make her big-screen debut with CrossRoads, a non-descript, forgettable little B-movie that received a predictable (if slightly unfair) kicking from critics worldwide. Now, only a few months later, we have top-selling recording artiste Eminem making his big-screen debut with 8 Mile. In an eerie coincidence, both films feature Taryn Manning in a supporting role as a girl who gets pregnant but loses her baby – by accident in CrossRoads, by abortion in 8 Mile.
But Eminem’s movie has attracted rather more attention that Britney’s – the recipient of glowing plaudits from US critics, it’s taken considerably more cash at the U.S. box office, and has even been mentioned as a possible Oscar contender in several major categories, especially Scott Silver’s screenplay, with Eminem himself mentioned as a possible nominee for best Best Actor, and (more plausibly) in the Original Song section for worldwide smash ‘Lose Yourself.’ 8 Mile has received glowing plaudits from American critics, and is generally regarded as a proper movie – with a ‘proper’ director in (Oscar winner) Curtis Hanson, and ‘proper’ co-stars like (Oscar winner) Kim Basinger and Mekhi Phifer.
It’s amazing what a couple of Oscars can do to a career, however. Hanson and Basinger were hardly taken very seriously before LA Confidential, which seems to have magically transformed them into eminent practitioners of their respective crafts. Hanson, while never less than technically competent, has always been very heavily reliant on his scripts – he shared credit (and the resulting Oscars) with Brian Helgeland on LA Confidential – with predictably uneven results. But 8 Mile marks a dizzying drop in standards from his messy last picture, Wonder Boys.
And the fault lies squarely with Scott Silver – briefly hot after his ‘gritty’ debut johns, then cold as (Vanilla) ice after his disastrous follow-up The Mod Squad. If the writers’ section of the Academy nominate Silver in the Original Screenplay category, then they and the organisation they represent will lose whatever scraps of credibility they may retain. Silver’s reward for the embarrassment that is the 8 Mile script should not be elevation to the pantheon of nominated scriptwriters – to paraphrase Hunter S Thompson, he should be chased out of Hollywood at the sharp end of a pitchfork.
“Inspired” by Eminem’s own (version of his) early life, this is a cartoon vision of Detroit poverty, circa 1995. Jimmy Smith Jr (Eminem) lives at home in a scuzzy trailer-park with his alcoholic mother Stephanie (Basinger) and young sister Lily (Chloe Greenfield). Fuming with anger at his family’s dire straits, he blames Stephanie and barely bothers to conceal his resentment at her white-trash boyfriend Greg (Michael Shannon). He works out his anger by rapping under the name ‘B.Rabbit’, taking part in inner-city-club ‘battles’ refereed by his mentor Future (Phifer). As the film begins, he suffers an embarrassing defeat after ‘freezing’ on stage, to the delight of the (entirely black) crowd. Struggling to regain his self-respect and ambition, he gets a job in a plant pressing metal for car parts (a Dancer In The Dark homage??!) and drifts into an uneasy relationship with aspiring model Alex (Brittany Murphy), all the while building himself back up to take on the city’s top rapper and perhaps pave the way to a lucrative career.
The basic structure is woefully familiar from boxing epics in the Rocky mould, as a wayward young bloke takes one of the few routes available out of inner-city deprivation. But while Rocky Balboa lost at the end of his first movie, there’s never any doubt what the conclusion is going to be for B.Rabbit as he squares off in his climactic ‘championship’ against the cocky Papa Doc (Anthony Mackie). This tepid conclusion is as rigged and predictable as every single plot development in 8 Mile, which amounts to little more than a crudely-drawn series of cliched situations acted out by crudely-drawn characters.
Eminem proves a swaggeringly inexpressive actor: his many tattoos are hidden with make-up, but there’s no mistaking his buff physique, even though Smith is never shown doing a stroke of exercise and has the nerve to tick off a rival rapper he accuses of using steroids. But at least B.Rabbit is something approaching an actual ‘role’ – he’s surrounded by a gallery of non-characters, each somehow more thankless than the next. There’s Evan Jones as ‘Cheddar Bob’, an amiable doofus who’s there to make everyone else appear intelligent (he spends the rest of the film on crutches after shooting himself while tucking his gun into his jeans) and, more importantly, to ensure that Eminem isn’t quite the only white man we see in any of the rap clubs. There’s Greg, a good-for-nothing ‘cracker’ with bad teeth who commits the unforgivable sins of (a) daring to have sex with Stephanie and (b) singing along to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. Inevitably, he ends up smashing up the trailer – all these domestic upheavals going on under the mournful watching eyes of angelic moppet Lily.
Or what about De’Angelo Wilson as DJ Iz – ‘DJ Social-Context Exposition’ would be closer to the mark, as he doles out endless pronouncements such as “It’s always easier for a white man to succeed in a black man’s medium,” only to receive ridicule from the other members of his posse. Then there’s Future – whose relationship with B.Rabbit mirrors that between Vin Diesel and Paul Walker’s characters in The Fast and the Furious: Future gets B.Rabbit past a stroppy (black) bouncer with the immortal line “I vouch for this motherfucker!” while later, in casual chat, admonishes him with the line “Negro, please!”
But it’s the women who, perhaps predictably, come off worst of all – Manning as B.Rabbit’s promiscuous ex Janeane, Murphy as his bed-hopping girlfriend Alex (the camera bobbles up and down to ogle her legs). And then there’s Basinger, who mangles most of her lines in a ham-fisted ‘serthern accint’, though this perhaps is just as well given what she’s forced to say. You do suspect Silver is delivering some kind of spoof when he has Stephanie open the mail and cry “We’re bein’ evicted!” And how does Silver solve the Smith family’s financial woes? If you suspect B.Rabbit somehow strikes in rich through rapping, you’ll be surprised. and appalled, so cheesy is the actual resolution of this particular stinky subplot: “Aah went to the beengo, and aah wern!!” exclaims Stephanie.
Stunning incompetence in scriptwriting isn’t necessarily a crime, of course. But when a film comes along like 8 Mile, purporting to deal with serious modern issues – issues which are all too seldom addressed in mainstream cinema – blundering work like Silver’s simply isn’t acceptable. More learned observers than this critic have written at length analysing the film’s misogyny and jaw-dropping presentation of Detroit racism as a phenomenon suffered by whites. And this in a film in which the main (white) character’s two girlfriends just so happen to be the only eligible white women we see – would it have been so shockingly progressive for B.Rabbit to have actually been shown having a relationship with a black girl? Or would that run the risk of alienating his fan-base, which is (almost entirely) as white as the main creative forces behind 8 Mile: Silver, Hanson, and producer Brian Grazer.
13th January, 2003
(seen FilmWorks, Manchester, 10th January)
If this didn’t satisfy your thirst for why this film is so very bad you can read the short version of this review by clicking here
In addition to this there are (unfortunately) more films as bad as this one – to check out the worst of them go to our Diorama of Dishonour to read films rated 1 or 2.
by Neil Young
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