Film Review Archive


8 Mile
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Now playing at the Aptos Twin, the Fox Theater, Santa Cruz Cinema 9, and the Skyview Drive-In, 8 Mile is a film you've no doubt heard a lot about. It stars the very bad white boy rapper from "both sides" of Detroit's eight-mile road color line: Eminem (aka Slim Shady, aka Marshall Mathers). It's directed by Curtis Hanson and, besides the rapper, also features performances by actors Kim Basinger (his Mom), Brittany Murphy (his sorta girlfriend), Mekhi Phifer (his friend Future-get it?), and by other well-known rappers.

The storyline is pretty much exactly the same as the storyline in Blue Crush, only we're talking urban blight instead of Hawaii, and cutthroat rapping instead of cutthroat surfing. Basically, after choking several times in rap competitions called battles where the goal is to respond to or challenge your opponent by putting him down better than he did you, our hero succeeds beyond his-and our-wildest expectations and, Sinatra-like, he does it his way. There's some other stuff too: trouble at home, the factory shifts, some girlfriends and his homeys, one white, two black.

Marshall Mathers has a good face and really good eyes; that, and his laconic style make him silver-screen friendly. The rest of the cast do a great job too. But there's not enough rap, which is, after all, what I went for. The real subject of the film, as the title suggests, is a place, not persons. Detroit is painstakingly and starkly filmed as an empty shell of a city with neighborhoods full of falling down and deserted houses. It reminded me of a very different-but also somehow similar-film now playing at the same time, Bowling for Columbine, where the decrepit houses of another erstwhile factory town, Flint, Michigan, also feature prominently in a movie about poverty, the color line, and geographies of waste.

I know this is a movie where the white middle class gets to learn about the hatching grounds of a certain kind of rap, and gets to do it safely by seeing it on celluloid rather than in space. It is instructive: what we hear is not the lyrical slam poetry featured on Eminem's last two albums, but a starker, more stripped-down and improvised kind of rhyming talk. And I know, too, that a lot of folks are sneering because Eminem, a white boy, has gone and made himself a New York Times-worthy star by offending everyone then starring in an autobiographical movie, another Madonna you might say. But the guy's got talent-even most of his detractors say this, and there's something different about a white movie where most of the actors are black. Finally, what does seem to me to be the interesting political dimension of this film is the way it treats class as the cross-racial similarity that authenticates Eminem's life and his rap.

Marshall Mathers has crafted his career and his personae through autobiographical fiction. What has made his lyrics both fascinating and terrifying for the very young and the old is the way he scandalously smashes so many sacred icons in our culture. He's had terrible things to say about his mother and his ex-wife, reserving cross-gender affection only for his 6-year-old daughter Hailie, whom he also shockingly features in some of his x-rated songs. 8 Mile performs a revisionist sleight-of-hand on all that: gone is the misogynist blame, and all the homophobia as well, violence and hostility being reserved for the dirty business between men. We'll see if it works. Meanwhile, I've no doubt that Eminem Incorporated is laughing all the way to the bank.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.