Get Rich or Die Tryin'

on November 09, 2005 by Tim Cogshell
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Marcus is a young boy with a dream of becoming a rap star. When his mother is brutally murdered, he is left to deal with life on the streets as best he can, which in the urban environs of New York City generally means selling drugs. He grows up hard and fast, falling in with a group of gangsters including a Godfather-like figure called Levar (Bill Duke) and the charismatic Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), both of whom have secrets -- and a special interest in Marcus. After he is shot nine times, Marcus decides to return to his dream, but that will mean breaking old ties and learning to take revenge with rhyme rather than a gun.

It is popularly believed that "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" is a semi-autobiographical depiction of the life and times of star and hip-hop impresario Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson. Be that as it may, the film itself is for the most part a collection of gangster movie archetypes that every rapper has in their DVD collection (if MTV's "Cribs" is to believed), including "Scarface," "The Godfather" and "Belly," each a cult classic in the money/power/respect-fueled world of hardcore hip-hop. There is also a healthy dose of "8 Mile," the debut film of 50's mentor, Eminem. Its other influences, including "Rocky," are likely those of writer Terence Winter (well known for his work on "The Sorpranos") and director Jim Sheridan ("In America").

The narrative that interweaves all these storylines is threadbare, gathered together from this amalgam of the true and previously-fictionalized tales. It often suggests character relationships that are never developed, plot directions that are never pursed and themes that are, at best, ambiguous. This is a frustrating circumstance, particularly in a movie that is over two hours long. Completeness becomes a necessity as a film gets longer.

There are memorable performances, one from the ubiquitous Terence Howard ("Hustle and Flow") as Bama, Marcus' quick-tempered jailhouse buddy, and another from 50 Cent himself. The usually menacing rapper generates empathy and pathos. He's even funny.

What this all adds up to is a film that is effective, but not particularly unique, and thus less provocative than it might seem. Chances are, you've seen this before -- just with a different soundtrack. Starring Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, Terrence Howard, Joy Bryant, Bill Duke and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Directed by Jim Sheridan. Written by Terence Winter. Produced by Jimmy Iovine, Paul Rosenberg and Jim Sheridan. A Paramount release. Crime drama. Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, drug content, sexuality and nudity. Running time: 134 min

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