Show Business: Eminem's 8 Mile High

Yes, he can act. In a powerful new film, the rapper brings his signature intensity to the big screen

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But they eventually agreed to develop a script (by Scott Silver), and with Eminem attached, Grazer went looking for an A-list director. And there was Hanson. "I wanted someone who would give me the kind of adrenaline hits [he delivered in L.A. Confidential]," says Grazer. For his part, Hanson saw his main job as establishing trust with his star. He scheduled a long rehearsal period and began to see that Eminem had what movie stars have--"the ability to find some part of themselves in anything they play." Maybe that was a little easier for Eminem because 8 Mile was made entirely on his native ground. It is not directly autobiographical, but spiritually he could certainly connect with Jimmy's struggle.

Hanson connected to that struggle too. The director, who used two-camera, hand-held coverage throughout (his director of photography was Rodrigo Prieto, whose work electrifies this film as it did Amores Perros in 2000), fell in love with the "spirit" of 8 Mile during his 4 1/2-month Detroit shoot. He found the area "truly moving" and wanted "to give voice to" its humor, its refusal to be battered down by the miserable circumstances that this movie does not evade. "It's like a flower struggling through a crack in the cement," Hanson says. The club where the hip-hoppers battle was once a church. Now, says Hanson, "it's another kind of church"--obscenely secular, yet also a place where a very fundamental community comes raucously together. Ultimately, he believes that Eminem's biracial appeal derives from the fact that what he's rapping about is issues of class, not race.

8 Mile is not a documentary; it's a populist movie. Beneath its tough--no, filthy--talk and rough look, it is a fairy tale that--and this ought to be enough irony for the sniffiest Postmodernist--the unlikely career of its leading man proves can come true. There's something old-fashioned and dauntless about the way the film pushes past our initial resistance to its setting and subject matter, past pain, past defeat, to make this point. Because it rejects easy victories, this may be one of the few inspirational movies that could actually inspire someone, somewhere, sometime.

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