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8 Mile

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
8 Mile
from Film Forum, 11/14/02

8 Mile opened to a huge box office success this weekend ($51.2 million.) It also kept theater employees busy preventing younger viewers from slipping past its R-rating barrier.

The story follows a familiar Rocky/Karate Kid formula, but is set in a troubled corner of Detroit, where young people vent their anger, prejudice, and bitterness in contests of bile-spewing, yet skillful, rap. The film has received a lot of hype as being semi-autobiographical for its star, the controversial young rap celebrity Eminem. But director Curtis Hanson does a fine job of making what is predictable seem fresh, and he finds in Eminem a surprisingly engaging screen presence.

David DiCerto (Catholic News) calls it "a raw foray into the high-stakes world of Detroit's hip-hop subculture. Unfortunately, despite the controversial rap phenom's strong debut and a unique stratum of American culture rarely explored, the hackneyed story line lends little originality to the tired genre of inner-city angst films."

Will Johnson (Relevant Magazine) says Eminem "shows his impressive command over subtlety." In spite of the questionable behavior of many of the film's character, Johnson argues, "One of the most unusual aspects of this movie is its unexpected high moral ground. It promotes ideas of loyalty, hard work and thoughtfulness. This seems to be the opposite of Eminem's blatantly and purposely controversial lyrics. Though the movie has a never-ending string of bad language, a graphic sex scene, and some adult subject matter, the movie still feels uplifting and inspirational."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says, "Hanson paints a gritty picture of a life on the streets of Detroit and guided by his hand, 8 Mile has the appearance of being a better film than it is. It is the script by Scott Silver that disappoints. Aspiring to be a Rocky for the hip-hop crowd, its dueling rap scenes are more reminiscent of Over the Top, Stallone's easily forgettable arm wrestling epic."

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) calls the film "an illusory PR coup for Eminem" and objects to the language and behavior of the characters. "8 Mile becomes the distance teens should put between themselves and this movie."

Tom Snyder (Movieguide) says, "8 Mile [tells] a gritty story about people living in the rundown urban areas that the radical anti-biblical left created in Detroit in the last 35 years. … Many children and teenagers are just as likely to imitate the bad behavior in this movie as much as, if not more than, the positive behavior. Thus, although there are some positive moral and redemptive elements in 8 Mile, Movieguide cannot recommend it."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says of Eminem, "He surprised me. As bleak as this story is, I still enjoyed the acting ensemble and slice-of-life message about overcoming your circumstances to achieve your dream." She adds that the film is "definitely for mature teens and adults only!"

Phil Boatwright (Movie Reporter) writes, "I find the whole rap, hip-hop scene … destructive and satanic. The people involved in that industry keep overdosing or shooting one another. The messages are generally hostile, violent, sexist or racist. It's full of anger, produced by people unable to express themselves without the use of profanity or exploitation. Rap and hip-hop are anti music."

But Simon Remark (Hollywood Jesus review pending) is ready to "battle" the film's naysayers: "What's great about it is we do not see an artist from the gutter making it big. After the film's climax, Bunny Rabbit goes back to work, at the stamping plant." He defends the rap battling too: "Hip-hop is a subversive music and culture, and this film really illustrates this. And many people will not understand the nature of battling; it's been referred to negatively in several reviews already. Freestyle battling isn't just about hurling insults, expletives, and what have you at the opposing MC. It's about cleverness, creativity, competition and having fun. It's not to be taken personally, and those on the outside looking in will most likely misunderstand it."

My review is posted at Looking Closer.

Mainstream critics continue to hail Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) as a bold, groundbreaking, inventive director, and many believe Eminem has great potential as a movie star. But Ebert himself has concerns about the glorification of this music: "What has happened to our hopes, that young audiences now embrace such cheerless material, avoiding melody like the plague? At least in their puritanism they still permit rhymes."

from Film Forum, 11/21/02

Eminem's big-screen debut as a rapper with a gift, 8 Mile, continues to receive a mix of praise and criticism.

Robert Jackson (Decent Films) observes, "The F-word … is used literally hundreds of times in the space of two hours." But he also notes, "Eventually [Eminem's character] perceives the necessity of taking responsibility for his actions, of making better choices, and of getting away from the people who are holding him back. As he begins to do so, he starts regaining confidence and doing the things he needs to do to get the kind of life he wants. This film actually could do some good." But he concludes, "Unfortunately, for conscientious Christian viewers—or simply viewers with weak stomachs—the thick blanket of depravity, crassness, and squalor in which 8 Mile wraps its message will make the film simply unwatchable."