Growing up as the oldest son in an upper-middle class neighborhood outside of Washington, DC, I am familiar with rap as much as, or even more than, KRS One, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Public Enemy or NWA. I come from dem hard streets, where I can kill a muhvuggah! Well, maybe not exactly, and in the age where lame musicians become lame actors (or vice versa in the case of Jennifer Lopez), anyone who tries to be the entertainment “double threat” deserves to be subjected to any and all s…orn and ridicule. Surprisingly though, some of the musicians who have started appearing in movies have employed the easy strategy of appearing as themselves (or dramatically licensed clones of themselves), and some of them have surprisingly interesting stories to tell, such as Eminem in 8 Mile.
The trend continues with rap star 50 Cent’s film Get Rich or Die Tryin’, loosely based on the singer’s life. Written by Terence Winter (The Sopranos) and directed by Irish auteur Jim Sheridan (In America) 50, a.k.a. Curtis Jackson plays Marcus, a young kid who grows up with a single mother who sells drugs. One day she is killed, and he keeps a permanent residence with his grandparents, including grandmother Viola Davis (Solaris). Marcus dreams of being a rapper, and he makes a tape for a friend of his, and the tape is found by her parents, who send her to live elsewhere, out of the neighborhood. While his rap dreams dwindle, he decides to follow in his mother’s footsteps and sell drugs, under the watchful eye of a drug boss named Majestic (Adewale Agbaje, Oz) and his boss, played by Bill Duke (Car Wash). Marcus has a crew of 3 men that all produce well for their bosses and make them lots of money and he enjoys personal success, but his crew clashes frequently with a gang of rival Colombians. The final turn caused Marcus to attempt an unauthorized hit on the group, which causes him to get put in jail.
When in jail, he befriends an inmate named Bama (Terrence Howard, Hustle and Flow), who helped save him from an attempted murder in jail. The two become fast friends and Marcus finds the time to rediscover his rap dreams, and finds that they may actually come true this time. When he’s released from jail, he tells Majestic that he no longer wants to run drugs, which does bother him, but he respects Marcus’ space to give him the chance to reach his dreams. Marcus soon clashes with Majestic, which presents problems as Majestic produces rap records now, and does have some input into what Marcus and Bama are trying to do. One day, a business opportunity for Marcus goes south, as a robbery he’s agreed to do goes OK, but he is shot several times just as he’s returned home. Despite being shot nine times, he does pull through, and eventually confronts Majestic and his bloodthirsty crew.
Now obviously, this couldn’t be exactly autobiographical when it came to naming other names, but assuming that most of this is true, it’s quite the compelling story. Winter’s story and Sheridan’s direction certainly soften any hard edge that Jackson possesses, and there are even a few tender moments where the guy who wrote “High All the Time” sheds a tear or two. Sheridan also has a knack for casting, as the children who play younger versions of Marcus and his girlfriend Charlene (Joy Bryant, Antwone Fisher) bear an uncanny resemblance. Now granted, the last half of the third act reminded me a lot of a Sylvester Stallone film in that parts of it seemed a little bit clichéd, but the overall story is pretty strong and all of the performances are good, even Jackson’s. Granted, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ will still probably not be for everybody but based on its own merits deserves a look for those unfamiliar with the artist.
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ displays a wide variety of colors during the film (though none of them are too bright), and by and large everything is reproduced rather sharply. There was a slight issue with pixelation about halfway through the film that I experienced, but otherwise this looks good.
Dolby Digital 5.1 for the wannabe gangstas who want to break off a little viewing on the TV like the way we do it in the DC, yo! Seriously, the thing that carries the film is the music, and it sounds pretty solid, no complaints here.
I would have LOVED to hear an extended commentary with Jackson and Sheridan, just to hear what parts of the story about the black rapper appealed to the white Irishman. Nevertheless, aside from some trailers, there’s a 30 minute making of look at the film that actually has a little bit of substance behind it. Using handheld cameras during production, Sheridan periodically discusses what attracted him to the story (and that U2 frontman Bono was the one that brought the pair together), along with some parts of Jackson’s life that are or aren’t real. To see Sheridan and Jackson shoot dice in the Bronx is a little surreal, along with the Bronx crowds that attract the rapper, along with the director’s frustration at Jackson’s encouragement of the crowd. To see Jackson being shown around Dublin (and Sheridan’s childhood home) is also a little surreal to see, along with some local Dubliners who are eager to get pictures with the rapper. All in all, it helps make up for what could have been an interesting commentary.
If there was a case where looks and impressions could be misleading, this would probably be it. 50 Cent proves to be a capable actor with an engaging story, and Sheridan’s unique urge to direct this should hopefully inspire other similarly established director’s to branch out into pictures featuring urban characters and storylines. Well worth a recommendation to rent, and an easy buy for fans of 50.
Special Features List
- Making of Feature