Get Rich or Die Tryin’
2005Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: 50 Cent, Terrence Howard, Joy Bryant
urtis Jackson is pretty ambitious, or perhaps prone to wishful thinking. In interviews promoting his big screen debut, he’s compared Get Rich or Die Tryin’ to GoodFellas and Brian De Palma’s Scarface, staples of post-Coppola gangster cinema and infallible favorites of rappers everywhere (or at least those obliging enough to show off their homes on Cribs). The press, meanwhile, seems content (or lazy) enough to write the film off as an 8 Mile rehash.
Certainly, neither point of comparison is unreasonable. Get Rich was scripted by Terrence Winter, the writer responsible for some of the best Sopranos episodes, and even features its own mush-mouthed Don Corleone, spouting such gems as: “Show no love. Love will get you killed.” Further, while Eminem pegged Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys) to direct his life-story/star vehicle, 50 went with fellow Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America).
These reference points are obvious on paper, but on screen, Get Rich is another animal altogether. This is the biopic as comic book, with Mr. Shot Nine Times starring as the Man of Steel. Between Marcus’ (50) drug-dealer mom making him promise to “treat the women right” and Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje seemingly taking notes from the Meteor Man playbook for his role as a power-obsessed gang leader (who we later—surprise! “spoiler!”—learn killed Mrs. Cent), this doesn’t work as a gritty “urban drama” (as MTV Films is marketing it) in the vein of Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society. Read as such, it’s merely camp. As Spider-Man 3, however, it makes a lot more sense.
Like all good superhero flicks (save, perhaps, the exceptional Batman Begins), Get Rich exists less as an ostensible approximation of the real world than as an alternate version. Everything in Get Rich’s New York City (aka Toronto, mostly) is exaggerated and oversimplified, dramatically heightened and underlit, like pages out of a particularly engrossing comic. Here’s young Marcus (an ideally cast Marc John Jeffries) eyeing a pair of expensive shoes in a store window. Flash forward a decade, and there he is buying a Benz (with cash). It’s only appropriate that the transition from past to present is triggered (no pun intended) by the purchase of Marcus’ first firearm.
Joy Bryant plays Marcus’s boyhood crush, and, later, his girlfriend and the mother of his child. She’s also, of course, the Mary Jane Watson to 50’s Peter Parker, and maybe his kryptonite, too. It’s a woefully underdeveloped part, to be sure, but vital nevertheless to the film’s success. This woman must be nothing less than sweetness incarnate, practically a saint, to penetrate Marcus’s bulletproof exterior, and inspire his career-shift from crime to music. Bryant not only succeeds in this regard, but manages to actually insert some palpable human warmth and feeling into her scenes opposite 50.
Sheridan’s film is finally, however, a prime example of (pop) art imitating life imitating art, ad infinitum. The fact that Marcus is Curtis Jackson is 50 Cent is almost beside the point; that 50/Jackson is so clearly trying to act is far more remarkable. His performance isn’t especially nuanced or subtle, granted, but he is acting, and that counts. (As far as vanity projects go, he’s better than Prince was in Purple Rain, if not as compelling as Em in 8 Mile.) When in a key scene in the film, 50 sheds a tear, it’s somehow touching above and beyond its relevance to the narrative—like, say, that indelible, quasi-religious sequence on the train in the second Spider-Man movie.
Get Rich isn’t a classic, and although it’s undeniably derivative in concept, the end product is admirably un-generic. We should only hope The Game: The Motion Picture will prove half as inspired.