IN THE film 8 Mile, Rabbit is a young white rapper attempting to deal with his anger and alienation through music. The part is played by the US rapper Eminem.
Rabbit lives in a trailer on the poor, predominantly black side of town with his kid sister, their mother (Kim Basinger) and her redneck boyfriend. The film starkly portrays urban decay. It shows the reasons for what would seem at first sight to be mindless vandalism, but are in fact little acts of rebellion.
It also portrays brilliantly a world of street poetry, where no occasion or incident, no matter how trivial, passes the troubadours by without poetic comment. These verbal clashes of linguistic dexterity are terrific. Some are impromptu, others formally organised bouts. The latter lie at the core of the story.
Rabbit attempts to win the bout, and therefore conquer his personal demons, to give his life some meaning and direction. The scene of the final bout is a terrific piece of cinema, and the end has a sad ambiguity to it.
Ever since he burst onto the scene, Eminem has been a highly controversial figure, loathed and adored in equal measure. The right detest him. But so did many on the left, who never got far beyond criticising some objectionable lyrics.
In the process they failed to spot the talent, or consider why so many were in awe of, and inspired by, his music. This film now introduces us to Eminem the actor, and it works. His performance is natural and convincing.
What, though, of the controversial side of Eminem? In part the film appears to want to give him something of a makeover. The attitudes expressed in his lyrics towards gays or women have frequently been vicious.
Here, however, we see Rabbit defending a gay workmate who is being abused by others. The defence may not be the most sophisticated. Nevertheless it is clearly there for a purpose.
Rabbit expresses much of the anger you will find in Eminem’s music, but without the bile that marks some of his work. This movie is not merely an extended Eminem video. It explores poverty, anger, alienation, escape and hope, and does so very successfully.
Eminem fans will love it. I suspect, though, that its appeal will be broader than that. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s certainly worth going to see.
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