Directed by: Curtis Hanson
Written by:Scott Silver
Starring: Eminem, Kim Basinger, Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, Evan Jones, Omar Benson Wilson, De’Angelo Wilson
Released: January 16, 2003
Grade: A

Eminem’s music is as controversial as it is influential. It all began in Detroit, Michigan where he performed at many clubs and hip hop venues. Only a few years later, he was a multi-award winning artist with Grammys and MTV Music Awards to his credit. 8 Mile marks his cinematic debut and his intimate knowledge of the material sees him excel beyond most expectations.

Whilst the film is based on Eminem’s experiences, it is not a biography. In the film, his character is Jimmy Smith, Jr, known to everyone as Rabbit, who is a talented rapper living in a poverty stricken community. He’s just split from his girlfriend and with nowhere else to go, has moved back in with this mum (Basinger) in a tiny caravan. His relationship with his mother is strained, given she doesn’t work, wastes precious money on bingo, and is dating a loser in the hope of leeching money of him.

Struggling to find to get by himself with a part-time factory job, Rabbit believes in something better. He’s saving all he can to pay for studio time where he can record his music and send it to powerful industry people. His friends Future (Pfifer), Cheddar Bob (Jones), Sol (Miller) and DJ Iz (Wilson) are trying to help with their support and his new girlfriend, Alex (Murphy) is providing more than inspiration. But not all are loyal to Rabbit’s cause and he’ll soon find some people can’t be trusted.

The key to the story is a contest at The Shelter where rappers face off in one-on-one rhyming contests. They are forced to come up with an on-the-spot rap, which usually belittles their opponent, to win crowd approval. The audience is the judge and the contest continues until there’s only one man standing. Eminem himself has spoken of the significance of losing such a competition: “I remember, if I lost a battle, it would be like my entire world was crumbling… I would feel like my whole life was over. It may look silly to a lot of people, but to a lot of us, it’s our world.”

Curtis Hanson’s last two films, Wonder Boys and L.A. Confidential were nothing short of brilliant and despite being an unusual choice for a leading director, 8 Mile is equally as impressive. Hanson has the ability to take a standard story and through his artistry, make it utterly compelling without diminishing the screenplay or directly preaching life lessons. He just likes telling stories. The closing credits are perfectly timed and it leaves the audience wondering and thinking. There’s no need for any obligatory “they all lived happily ever after” stuff and Hanson knows it.

Also deserving credit for the above analysis is screenwriter Scott Silver who doesn’t use a formulaic method. There were several scenes where I thought something was going to happen and it didn’t – clichés went out the window and it felt so great! I also enjoyed the fact the film focused on the music and whilst looking at the depressing life-style that dominates these communities, it didn’t paint some stereotypical world of black guys on drugs getting wasted every night.

With no leading film stars, one would expect only Eminem fans to be buying tickets to 8 Mile. Judging from the numerous sold-out sessions in Australia over the weekend and the very large box-office take in America ($115m), the public is willing to give Eminem a chance on screen even if indifferent to his music. They’re prepared to go the extra mile and deserve the prize of seeing one of the year’s best.