Criticism

8 Mile

“Eminem commands the screen in his feature debut with an exhilarating performance that virtually dares viewers to look away.”

8-mile-1

Rapper Delights

Eminem impresses in his big screen debut

Gay activists can start gnashing their teeth and sharpening their battle-axes; with his stellar performance in 8 Mile, notorious fag-basher Eminem is about to attain a whole new level of legitimacy.

Like a Purple Rain for the rap generation, this semi-autobiographical flick follows a young working-class artist struggling to prove himself as a musician. With no resources, no familial support and no real future to speak of, he must contend with not only a multitude of external obstacles, but also his own self-doubt.

In the way Prince electrified audiences in his first film, Eminem commands the screen in his feature debut with an exhilarating performance that virtually dares viewers to look away. Here he’s Rabbit, a Detroit factory worker who lives in a trailer with his unemployed mom (Kim Basinger). Rabbit dreams of entering the freestyle “battles” at a local nightclub, but he can’t work up the nerve until he meets Alex (Brittany Murphy), a girl as desperate to escape her miserable life as he is his. As he watches Alex pursue her goal of making it as a model, Rabbit begins to understand that nothing in his life will ever change without commitment and dedication on his part.

Shot on location among the decaying environs of the Motor City, the film perfectly captures the grim atmosphere of a world where the difference between having a place to stay and living on the street can hinge on the outcome of a bingo game. Wisely, director Curtis Hanson utilizes no fancy camera tricks, instead letting the washed out colors and stark settings speak for him.

The raw intensity is further heightened by Eminem’s gut-level performance, which often generates a nauseating excitement while watching it. As played by the rapper, Rabbit is a seething mass of volatile emotions – chiefly hostility and rage, but also sorrow, despair and frustration. It’s an impressive portrayal, but, then again, it’s not that much of a stretch. Eminem’s really only playing himself, so it’s a bit soon to proclaim him an actor just yet.

Still, there’s no denying his irrepressible onscreen charisma, especially in his (all-too-infrequent) moments of lyrical bravado. After countless false starts and timid deliberation, when the rhymes finally do come tripping in a tangled, triumphant torrent, Eminem has audiences in the palm of his hand. (There’s even an effort to win over Eminem’s homosexual adversaries, with Rabbit defending a gay co-worker from the verbal assaults of another.)

Unlike Purple Rain’s jubilant finale, 8 Mile ends on a much more contemplative note. The future, with all its possibilities, is left uncertain. But, really, we don’t need to be shown what happens next. Because, when it comes right down to it, we already know.

Michael Rucker is a regular contributor to Gay City News. Reach him at MikeRucker@nyc.rr.com.

(Appeared in Gay City News)
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