The only reason I decided to see this film is because it was directed by Jim Sheridan, a director I greatly admire (In America, My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father). I also admire MTV movies – for the most part. The themes seem to want to dig in and raise up the characters from the worlds that are stifling them. At the end of the day, however, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ disappoints. Unlike Sheridan’s other films, or even the MTV films I have seen, no one gets lifted up very much.
But the film has street creds, I suppose, that it gets from writer Terence Winter who scripted many episodes of The Sopranos. The thing is Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is so over-the-top violent that to think that it represents the world of gangsta rap in America means we ought to stop buying this music so these guys can get real jobs (hoping they don’t fall back into drug dealing, of course.) The thugs in this movie make the mafia look like society gentlemen.
Marcus (50 Cent as the grown character) is a mannerly twelve-year old whose single mom is a drug dealer so she can keep him in tennis shoes (which are a huge status symbol to these kids.) When she is murdered, Marcus goes to live with his grandparents. He discovers he can rap as he grows older, but gets into selling drugs because it’s easier. He buys a car and gets himself a crew. He’s accepted among the drug dealing community, and pays his dues. He hooks up with a childhood girlfriend, Charlene (Joy Bryant), who is soon pregnant. Then there are turf shoot-outs and revenge killings between the gangsta’s and the local Columbian dealers. Marcus ends up doing time and makes friends with Bama (Terrence Howard) who becomes his agent when Marcus gets out of jail. Marcus wants to go straight, but when he decides to rob a check cashing place run by Columbians (as long as no one gets hurt), he is almost killed afterwards. He recovers in a house away from all the trouble with his wife and child – after the gansta boss threatens his family. Marcus decides to get revenge by humiliating the man through a song, well, rap. So, OK, he doesn’t kill the guy, but Bama does.
Does any of this sound familiar? 8 Mile, maybe?
The film’s biggest problem is that Marcus doesn’t show enough feeling as his character; he’s stiff (Charlene complains that he buries his emotions; but his problem is that the emotions he does show are not convincing.) Also, the revenge theme is so old. Marcus finds out who is father is (at the end) and who killed his mother (at the end), and he raps as though he has cotton in his mouth to a beat that’s, well, ordinary.
I am not sure why Jim Sheridan wanted to take on this project; perhaps to show that he really is “in America"? Usually Sheridan makes movies about people/families that reflect the broader social/political milieu in which they live and die. The www.imdb.org has 50 Cent saying that about "75% of this film is true." But which 25% isn't?
I thought 8 Mile was a good film – I’ve even seen it twice. I love the part where Eminem is riding the bus and gathering his lyrics from the world around him. This current film is from the Black ghetto/gangsta experience, I suppose, but the story evoked no empathy from me; it was not believable. The violence to humanity ratio was way off. 8 Mile was about creating art in a barren world; Get Rich or Die Tryin’ never comes near it, and I think it may die tryin’.