Review: “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”

Only two solo male rap artists of late have really crossed over into the mainstream public consciousness – Eminem and 50 Cent. Three years ago the former achieved new levels of fame thanks to “8 Mile”, a fictional (albeit almost autobiographical) tale of the young man’s rise from the slums of Detroit into a successful recording artist. Helmed by the acclaimed Curtis Hanson who’s not normally known for those sorts of films, it went on to earn a heap of money and good reviews.

Now its 50 Cent’s turn to try out the same routine – like “8 Mile” its a fictional tale that’s essentially autobiographical about the man’s rise from the slums to becoming a successful recording artist, and its directed by the acclaimed Jim Sheridan who’s also not normally known for those sorts of films. The result however isn’t anywhere near as rewarding. Both Jackson and Sheridan deliver pedestrian work that has moments of greatness, but no really cohesive story pulling the whole thing together and ultimately no point or growth for the main character.

This comes as a surprise considering Jackson’s life is quite colourful, and many of the key milestones including the famous ‘being shot nine times’ incident do make it on screen. The early scenes are the film’s best in which our young lead Marcus becomes horribly orphaned and dreams of becoming a rapper in the hopes of one day getting out of the squalor. There’s a noble motivation at least, but once Jackson himself assumes the role it goes nowhere because the character seems to lose any sense of self-identity.

Yes he’s a drug dealer (the film treats that aspect like a pure business, nothing more) but all we’re seeing is his perspective on life which seems to be riding whatever direction it takes him and never veering into self-examination of any kind. Yes he wants to be a rapper but that desire seems to come and go, he doesn’t like being a gangster but does it anyhow with neither enthusiasm or reluctance. Jackson does have potential as an actor, but at other times he’s a vacant space on screen surrounded by better thesps struggling with characters that seem so Hollywood one wonders if they did have real life counterparts.

Sheridan shoots the film with rich, dark colourful visuals but with an oddly muddled sense of pacing. Combined with an overly long runtime stretching it out, much of the film we’re left like 50 – meandering with nowhere to go. “8 Mile” at least, for all its cliches, came away with a protagonist we got insight into and could rally for. As someone only vaguely familiar with 50 Cent’s work, “Get Rich” didn’t really display to me why this man has achieved what he has, why he rose above where others have failed, and most importantly – why I should get behind such a man who remains a low-rent enigma. Maybe if the film had more heart instead of balls, we really could have had a ‘Rich’ experience.