Get Rich or Die Tryin'
2005, R, 117 min. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Starring Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Terrence Howard, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, Joy Bryant, Tory Kittles, Ashley Walters, Serena Reeder, Bill Duke.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 11, 2005
Jim Sheridan may seem an unlikely director for this true-life tale of the rise, bullet-riddled fall, and rise again of rapper 50 Cent. His last film, 2002’s luminous, moving In America was an elegiac tour de force of the Irish immigrant experience in New York City, while previous outings – The Field, In the Name of the Father, and the Oscar-winning My Left Foot – were all grounded in the director’s native Ireland. This streetwise tale of Jackson’s life so far (despite the title, anyone with even a passing interest in rap knows how the story turns out) is so loaded with great, riotous bouts of melodrama that if it were fiction it’d be laughed off the screen, or possibly adopted as a persona by any one of the teeming up-and-coming rappers currently feeding the mix-CD underground. Jackson’s childhood in Queens is overseen by his mother, Katrina, and the absent father he searches for but never finds. "Mama was everybody’s friend," he pines early on, "so anybody could be my father." A drug dealer with a loving, maternal instinct, Katrina’s sordid life ends in murder, a recurring theme that haunts Jackson’s life, and later, his music. In the wake of his mother’s unsolved death, the rapper-to-be moves in with his grandparents and assorted relatives. A sequence of the crowded sleeping arrangements there dovetails with an equally confined stint in prison, where, after becoming a drug dealer himself ("Crack changed everything," he explains, as if this were hot news straight out of New Jack City), he meets up with future manager Bama (Howard, of Hustle & Flow) and gets some down time for shower-room shiv battles and solitary-confinement rapping practice. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is overcrowded with subplots: One about rival rapper Dangerous seems to go all over the place and nowhere as well, while another questions whether Jackson’s drug kingpin boss Majestic (Akinnouye-Agbaje) might be complicit in Katrina’s murder. Unlike 8 Mile (Curtis Hanson’s fleet, edgy portrait of Eminem, who had a hand in producing this film), 50 Cent’s life story feels bloated and profane; he lacks the butterscotch charisma of Howard’s pimp-made-good in Hustle & Flow, and even before he’s shot in the mouth (along with another eight hits elsewhere) he sounds as though he’s rapping through a mouthful of sand. Which, of course, is part of his thuggish appeal. Broad across and rippling with muscle, 50 Cent mumbles his way through his hits – including the garishly explicit "I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy"– with the stoic venom of a prizefighter going down for the count but still able to spit out a final string of invective. He’s a hulking presence both onscreen and on wax, the sort of rapper bigots love to excoriate and hold up as the norm. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ goes a long way toward explaining how a cute little kid from the Bronx could end up riddled with scar tissue and exchanging how-dos with a cutthroat buddy while lying handcuffed on a bloody bathroom floor. But that doesn’t make it all that interesting. 50 Cent’s dull, brutish rhymes are miles from the smart-alecky persona of, say, Slim Shady, and even further from former cellblocker Slick Rick. Despite his popularity, his panache is all meat, no flesh, and about as charming – and unstoppable – as a muddy tank. Sheridan directs with an eye toward the twisting melodramatics, mapping out what seems like a thousand street-level indiscretions, which, in the end, add up to less than a buck. Not much enjoyment for all that street hassle, true story or not.