Directed by Curtis Hanson starring Eminem, Brittany Murphy, Kim Basinger and Mekhi Phifer.
There are no disasters here. No stupid shootouts, no corny drama and no grandstand finish. Those waiting for Oscar winners Curtis Hanson and Kim Basinger to trip up and their leading man Eminem to belly flop should save their money and not bother getting in line. What screamed a ridiculous idea or vanity project when you first read or heard about it is the exact opposite - a well thought out and realised film which never thinks too much of itself.
Swapping his blonde buzz cut for brown, Eminem plays Jimmy 'Rabbit' Smith, Southern white trash relocated to a Detroit trailer park with hard luck case mother (Basinger) and little sister in tow. Unable to hold down a job or relationship, Rabbit's way to escape are the 'battles', head-to-head contests where aspiring rappers face-off until it's the last man rhyming. His MC buddy and battles organiser Future (Phifer) knows just how good Rabbit is on the mic, but what's easy enough to do in the bathroom mirror becomes a mountain to climb in front of an audience. And when he freezes up in one contest, Rabbit hits the crossroads in his life: does he tough it out and win over the home crowd or should he go his own way and see how far it takes him?
Hanson's greatest asset here is that he never lets his star do too much. Granted, Eminem isn't playing anything he hasn't lived, but the director provides him just the right amount of material to work with. As the taciturn but thoughtful Rabbit, he gives a performance as tight as the rhymes he scribbles down on the '8 Mile' bus route to and from factory shifts. With the story taking place over the course of one week, Eminem deftly conveys the dilemma of someone stuck between the person they want to be and what the streets of Detroit will allow them. Dotted along the way are the girl (Murphy), the family and the friends going in circles when he's trying to follow a straight line. You can trace the character all the way back to Tony Manero, Rocky Balboa and Jim Stark, but Eminem stays on the right side of influence vs inspiration.
Hanson always makes sure Detroit looks real and not what a Hollywood creative team imagines it to be. The gritty depiction of a miserable and crumbling city, with people trying to do the best they can among the ruins, becomes more compelling as the film progresses. It's an achievement for any director to make a city a character itself but Hanson puts Motown as just as big a player in Rabbit's life as the people who inhabit it.
Against this backdrop, he captures the monotony shared by Rabbit and his pals: the stupid pranks, petty crime, bravado swagger and the reluctance to admit that they'll be doing the same thing all over again the day after. These are friendships, which are funny and touching but above all credible and safeguard Hanson's reluctance to make it all a one-man show.
Having literally pulled the Rabbit from the hat with such style you might wonder if Hanson could've done more. A scene between his hero and a gay co-worker was roaring off the screen to be developed further and more interaction between Eminem's character and those of Basinger and Phifer's would've brought the film to another level.
The fact that these thoughts will only hit you on the way out are a tribute to just how Exhilarating an ending Hanson has created. In keeping with the whole tone of the movie, it's the smallest of victories for Rabbit. It's no dream finale and no name in lights pay-off, just something to either dust off and treasure in years to come or act as the fuel for that next step up. And in a neat turnaround of life imitating art, those are exactly the options facing Eminem after what he's achieved here.