The hip-hop generation gets its Saturday Night Fever with 8 Mile, director Curtis Hanson's searing, grimy look at the world of freestyle rap in mid-'90s Detroit and its most notorious progeny, Eminem -- or, more specifically, a rapper nicknamed Rabbit who happens to bear an uncanny similarity to the controversial superstar. The film seems tailor-made to deflect criticism of the media-hungry artist: The man otherwise known as Marshall Mathers is portrayed as a hard worker, doting big brother, and even friend to ostracized gay co-workers. And yet 8 Mile is no puff piece. Eminem's character is also hotheaded, insular, and, with his gray skull cap and headphones perpetually glued to his head, more than a little nerdy. Hanson and writer Scott Silver have managed to create such a vivid milieu, time period, and bank of supporting characters, a first-time actor can't help but succeed, and Eminem acquits himself well -- there isn't a moment when he's grandstanding or playing to the camera. Predictably, the women who orbit Rabbit's life -- including a defiantly cast but strangely appropriate Kim Basinger and an irresistibly tarty Brittany Murphy -- don't fare as well in the scheme of the plot, but they're at least understandably, three-dimensionally pathetic and/or two-timing. Tying it all together are the thrilling, incendiary freestyle scenes, which dovetail perfectly with the drama and underline the pitch-black insult humor that provides the burgeoning rapper -- and seemingly, just about everyone else in Detroit -- with his only real release. After its world premiere at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival, 8 Mile broke box-office records in the US when it garnered the second-largest opening ever for a drama.
by Michael Hastings review