8 Mile (15)
The hype around 8 Mile and the performance of its lead, bad boy American rapper Eminem, reached the UK long before Curtis (LA Confidential) Hanson’s movie. Having seen the film and been hugely impressed by Eminem (real name Marshall Mathers) I can concede that most of that hype is fully justified.
Rock, pop and rap stars generally can’t act. It’s a situation that has been proved over the decades in film after film as a succession of household names have swapped the microphone, guitar or piano for a stab at acting and been found badly wanting.
8 Mile is the exception – a gritty, hard-edged, ultra-realistic look at life on the wrong side of the tracks seen through the eyes of Jimmy ‘Bunny Rabbit’ Smith (Eminem), a two-fisted yet intelligent white trash kid from a trailer park background who presses metal by day and dreams of a future in rap music by night.
But rap is predominantly conceived in a black arena, and Rabbit is a white boy trying to be heard. In his first ‘battle’ – an aggressive 45-second rant against a fellow rap opponent – he dries and leaves the stage to the jeers of the audience.
Home offers no safe haven. His mother is a fading blonde sex bomb (Kim Basinger sans make-up, giving a raw and courageous performance as a fortysomething woman desperately trying to hang onto her sexuality with a younger man) with a voracious sexual appetite who has a much younger daughter who witnesses her failings.
Then there is Rabbit’s own life. He’s broken up with his girlfriend, work is a monotonous round of arguments with his foreman and any free time is spent cruising with his pals dreaming of better times. He’s not driven by ambition or material gain, just the desire to get out of his dead-end way of life. There’s no way out from 8 Mile Road Mobile Court – except through rap.
Though he is in essence playing himself Eminem comes out of 8 Mile as a genuine movie discovery. Coiled tighter than a watch-spring, and possessing much of the taciturn, pugnacious, brooding intensity of a young Steve McQueen, Eminem delivers a punchy performance that is as charismatic as it is surprising.
Eminem has bonafide talent as an actor. He holds his own in a series of encounters with Basinger, with Mekhi Phifer (as his best pal) and with love interest Brittany Murphy, with whom he shares a startlingly erotic tryst in the depths of the factory where he grinds out a living.
Much of this must be down to the steady hand of writer/director Hanson, while Eminem himself wrote the lyrics to the raps he performs on stage or as a laugh with his pals.
There is even an opportunity for him to play down his image as a racist and misogynist, though much of that has been created by a publicity machine anxious to sell Eminem as the latest in a string of worrying poster boys that has included Keith Moon, Jim Morrison, Marilyn Manson and So Solid Crew.
Boasting more than a touch of Ken Loach in its construction, 8 Mile is shot through with the language of the streets, but in truth Eminem emerges as a real star – the Poet Laureate of the ghetto and the gutter.
He and the movie deserve all the plaudits they receive. Let’s just hope this promising start in acting isn’t swept away by his more over-the-top antics as a rap star.
Star rating: ****