Eminem is a screen natural who has a ways to go before he can claim a body of big-screen work. But in 8 Mile, he does himself proud with a director who’s accumulating one. Coming off the glossily corrosive L.A. Confidential and the whimsical Wonder Boys, Curtis Hanson has fashioned a dynamic Detroit-based saga about showbiz upward mobility — though, to the credit of both movie and filmmaker, not that upward.
8 Mile (out of four) Stars: Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi PhiferDirector: Curtis Hanson Distributor: UniversalRating: R for strong language, sexuality, some violence and drug use
As if it weren’t tough enough being an aspiring white rapper, Jimmy (Eminem) finds himself living back in a trailer with his mom after having just lost his girlfriend. But because his mom is played by Kim Basinger, she’s not just a mom; her new live-in boyfriend (Michael Shannon) is about Jimmy’s age. Basinger manages to convince us this woman could pull off the feat, even though she looks as if life long ago wore her out. Jimmy stamps metal by day and eyeballs a modeling hopeful (Brittany Murphy) who pops into the factory and flips him an affectionate finger. But by night, he competes in rapping contests staged in earthy venues that appear to be one or two steps down from the joint where Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man fought his wrestling match. In his first contest, Jimmy freezes and the stigma lingers, despite backing from black buddy Future (Mekhi Phifer).
White rappers and black rappers aren’t exactly predestined to be pals, and it’s refreshing to see not just cross-racial friendships, but also animosities based on nothing more than the fact that individuals simply don’t like each other. The rap sequences are shot and edited with the excitement of a crisply broadcast sporting event, which in a way they are. Eminem may be a success in real life, but you don’t get the sense that anyone here will break out and bankroll mansions or hot cars (though in Detroit, you could probably get a deal). The victories here will be small on the world stage but immense in self-esteem terms. Eminem steals the picture from a cast with snap down to the smallest parts. An argument could be made for Basinger, however, who looms so poignantly with not-quite-faded beauty but totally faded prospects. Hanson not doubt will rank near the top of her Christmas card list; he guided her to a Confidential Oscar and could steer her to another nomination here.