11 November 2002

i had wanted to write an in-depth review of 8 mile, but i figure i can save myself a lot of work by simply saying that 8 mile = rocky iii. it's a fight film for a generation more involved with the battles between jay-z and nas than those between roy jones jr. and john ruiz. this realization dawned upon me from the very first scene: jimmy "rabbit" smith jr. (eminem) in a dingy bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror, shadow-boxing, improving his footwork. there's a palpable sense of pre-fight jitters; physical proof of the same when rabbit vomits into a toilet. he's led out of the men's room down a dark corridor, wearing a hood, with his entourage bringing up the rear.

8 mile is rocky iii, in particular, because rabbit loses that first battle -- he chokes. the momentarily victorious clubber lang is embodied by battle champion poppa doc; eminem, of course, is the great white hope himself; future (mekhi phifer) is his apollo creed, helping rabbit to regain the "eye of the tiger." alex (brittany murphy) is his adrian, sort of; the spectre of vanilla ice is thunderlips, a towering illegitimate that he must topple. mickey is, essentially, 8 mile itself and all that it encompasses: the dead-end job, the ex-girlfriend, the trailer park with his drunken mother and his innocent little sister.

though i won't go into it, i was pleased that the movie didn't have a tidy resolution. like with any rocky movie, the filmgoer knows from the start that the rock is going to win, and i don't think i'm spoiling anything by saying that rabbit ultimately triumphs. but he's not fighting for the belt; he's fighting for, as trites as it sounds, respect. his victory is merely a first step in some direction. going in one knows the outcome, and in these films it's all about how the filmmaker pulls it off. curtis hanson, for his part, acquits himself and his film quite thrillingly: the end battle scenes are as exciting and as purely visceral as any film i've seen since gladiator.

eminem's performance was also a pleasant surprise. sure, he's playing himself, like prince in purple rain, but who knows his life better? he drifts across the screen rather effortlessly, feeding off the energy of those around him and directing it back at them. there are some lines where he seems to strike the right note, as if he were replicating a past response to a similar situation in his life rather than producing a reaction suitable to the actual scene. overall, though, you rarely notice that he's acting -- as fair a compliment as he could ask for.

as the film comes to a close and the credits roll, the opening chords of "lose yourself" are heard. in it, you hear the triumphalism of bill conti's original rocky theme, "gonna fly now," and the savage determination of rocky iii's "eye of the tiger." it confirms that the film has done everything it set out to do.

here's a final reason why 8 mile is rocky iii: it was also the best of the series.

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