Get Rich: dies tryin’
Early in Get Rich or Die Trying, Marcus Greer stares longingly at a pair of high-dollar sneakers, feeling the weight of his own poverty.
‘“Don’t worry Marcus. You’ll get those shoes one day,’” a friend tells him.
I can relate. Being a kid is tough, and having beat-up shoes only makes it tougher. But eventually, kids split off into two groups: those who figure out how to get those shoes, and those who, once they reach a certain age, stop giving a crap how their shoes look.
Taking its name from star 50 Cent’s debut album, this film will naturally be called ‘“50’s 8 Mile.’” But aside from being a partially fictionalized account of its star’s formative years, the two films couldn’t be more different, neither in content nor quality. Get Rich isn’t the worst gangsta-turned-gangsta-rapper film to hit the big screen, but it falls far short of greatness.
Jackson plays Greer, the son of a crack-dealing mother and absentee father. Raised by his grandparents, he turns to crime early, learning the ins and outs of the drug trade under the watchful eye of Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). He rises through the ranks, becoming one of the most respected gangsters in the hood, beleaguered by the ever-increasing danger of jealous dealers, rival gangs, and jail time. While recuperating from the now-infamous shooting (in which 50 sustained nine bullet wounds), he decides to dedicate his life to music, but extricating himself from the drug game proves almost as deadly as staying in it.
One of the film’s major failings is its star ‘— it may be his story (more or less), but Jackson’s reading of it is stiff and unconvincing. It’s a common misconception that playing a character similar to oneself is easy, but any actor will confirm that this isn’t so, and Jackson’s performance is a case study in this phenomenon. Director Jim Sheridan (who made the phenomenal In America), for the most part, doesn’t trust his protagonist with more than a few lines at a time. Instead, the story is told in a series of quick-moving, loosely-assembled scenes that rely heavily on voice-overs and trite, expository dialogue (‘“I had it all, but still, something was missing’”). It feels like damage control on Sheridan’s part ‘— sadly, it could’ve been much worse had Jackson been featured more.
The presence of some good actors doesn’t help. If anything, seeing Terrence Howard relegated to backing vocals will make you wish you were still watching Hustle & Flow. Marc John Jeffries, who portrays Marcus’ adolescent years, is quite good, but when his adult counterpart takes over, the film becomes far less involving.
Get Rich deals with some important, controversial issues ‘— the decimation of millions of lives by the introduction of crack into America’s inner cities, the plague of black-on-black violence and the selling of the result of both these things to mainstream America under the guise of ‘hip-hop.’ True to its title, Get Rich pays lip service to the first two, and unquestioningly heralds the third as ‘success.’ The heart-warming lesson of the film seems to be that the rampant materialism infesting modern hip-hop is fine, as long as it comes not from the selling of crack, but selling the image of a crack dealer. At one point, Marcus poses with his gun in front of the mirror in the same line of sight as a Public Enemy poster while KRS-One plays on the stereo. Both of these artists regularly criticize the commercialization of the gangsta image and openly question the definition of ‘respect’ that comes with it, but Get Rich is tragically and completely blind to this irony.
There’s also the Superman complex: most of the people who die as a result of the crack trade are Marcus’ enemies. The movie faces a choice between placing its star on a pedestal or being true to its subject matter, and in the end it chooses the former, implying that just being on 50 Cent’s good side is enough to keep you alive. Really, imagine if Boyz N the Hood had been that weak: Ricky never would’ve gotten shot, Doughboy would’ve gone on to form NWA, and 15 years later, nobody would remember the film even existed.
This might be construed as a criticism of 50 Cent, not the film itself. In my defense, it’s easy to get those wires crossed. Get Rich doesn’t stand alone; it’s a companion piece to the 50 Cent mythos. The implication is that a guy who gets shot nine times and lives does so for a reason: he’s tough, he’s got something to say, he’s a survivor. If you don’t, however, think it means any of those things, the hero worship demanded by the film is insane. After the interminable movie trudges to its conclusion, we’re pretty sure Marcus will have all the shoes he wants for the rest of his life. Get Rich or Die Tryin’, in the end, isn’t interested in very much else.
Glen Baity, self-described ‘wanksta,’ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.