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8 MILE (article first published : 2003-05-17)

There was once talk of a probable Oscar nomination for rap icon Eminem, for his starring role in 8 Mile, a drama inspired by the controversial icon's rise from poor Detroit nobody to Grammy-winning, chart-topping millionaire.

Certainly there is no denying he puts in a good turn, oozing confidence in an understated, even sad performance. And the film is a bleakly shot and gritty tale, well directed by the talented Curtis Hanson, who gave us the excellent LA Confidential. However, there's nothing truly Oscar-worthy here, save the catchy hit theme song Lose Yourself which is the film's only Academy Award nomination.

Competent and compelling enough though Eminem's performance and the picture are, both have been somewhat over-rated. Eminem basically plays himself and the movie, for all its wealth of realism, essentially follows the road-to-riches formula, complete with a variation of the walk-off-into-the-sunset (here moonlight) finale.

The time is 1995 and Eminem, mostly unsmiling and his head mostly hooded, is aspiring white rapper Jimmy, better known as Rabbit, who lives on the wrong side of Detroit's 8 Mile divide, an area dominated by poor blacks.

He shares a trailer home with his single mum (an impressive Kim Basinger), a boozy floozy who puts herself and low-life pig of a boyfriend before Jimmy or her young daughter.

Jimmy spends his days in stand-offs with rival gang members when not working at a car factory, pressing steel. But his passion is furthering his keen and obvious talent for inspired and improvised rapping.

To this end, he strives to work up the courage to enter the local rapping "battles" and earn some respect from his peers, many of whom mock and upset him. Pertinent to his world are Brittany Murphy as his dishevelled, slinky girlfriend and Mekhi Phifer as his best buddy.

The plotting may become predictable and the victorious finale inevitable, but it has to be said the sight and sound of the final rap battle make for gripping stuff, Eminem spitting and strutting his stuff in a way that makes it easy to see how he hip-hopped to become the huge star he is. 8 Mile gets a rating of 7/10. Billy Suter




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