Great self-promoter. Good rapper. So-so actor.
50 Cent is those things in that order in Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which strikes poses of Al Pacino gangster dramas and male weepies with all the resonance of a G-Unit promotional video.
Director Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father) knows violence is tragic and shattering whether it’s in Ireland or the United States. But he’s unable to show it here, and he said it best himself in a quotation about the film: “We don’t want to be promoting the idea that you just get a gun and that solves your life. The film kind of says the opposite.”
“Kind of” would be a very generous stretch.
Like 8 Mile, the far-superior 2002 film from 50’s mentor Eminem, Get Rich is semi-autobiographical. But Eminem didn’t get shot nine times — once in the jaw — like the drug-dealing, store-robbing 50 Cent. Get Rich naturally incorporates gangland bloodiness into its plotline before its protagonist looks to rap music as a way out.
Sheridan at least seems aware that the horrors perpetrated against 50 Cent — and his movie character, Marcus, a.k.a. “Young Caesar” — happen every day, while the opportunity to escape them does not. The movie only briefly considers the power of words, spoken or rapped, to provide truth and self-discovery before giving way to BS bravado.
Marcus tossing off his bulletproof vest at a climactic performance resembles a taunt from Tony Montana, not a personally empowering moment. It’s a pose no different than when 50 does the same thing in his own concerts. That unsurprisingly leads to the closing credits, where 50’s latest single plays out like a subliminal advertisement to cross the street and buy the soundtrack.
Even sadder is that sometimes Get Rich considers stunning technique and emotional weight.
Declan Quinn’s astounding cinematography finds constricting shadows in prison walls while grinding the grit of the street-bound drug trade.
Plus, there are come-and-go moments of musical inspiration (the suggestion that Marcus and crew record in winter coats because heating money went for mixing boards), ghetto-life heartbreak (a young Marcus scanning his mother’s funeral for a father he doesn’t even know) and potent performances (namely Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, as the seductive dealer Majestic, and Terrence Howard as Marcus’ fiercely loyal friend, Bama).
Even 50 Cent exhibiting all the emotion of a wooden nickel sometimes works to his advantage as a mask for Marcus’ scarred psyche.
Yet Get Rich is a movie where production-company title cards — Interscope Shady Aftermath Films (50’s labels) and MTV Films — set a template where persona trumps poignancy.
How does Marcus, barely able to speak and addicted to morphine from the pain of his wired-shut jaw, reclaim his life as a family man? Not by asserting a steady presence for his toddler son, but by ravaging girlfriend Charlene (Joy Bryant) in a soft-core love scene.
It’s one of many bits strangely cheered at by a preview audience that also laughed at tense holdups with hostages, brutally unguarded prison-shower attacks and a clipping of Rick James. That is a vengeful keepsake for Marcus because his mother’s killer resembled the “Super Freak” singer. Every shot of that picture drew Dave Chappelle-style laughs from a John Singleton context.
What’s worse is that 50’s counting on the audience de-conditioning itself from the horrors of the story and tuning into his snazzy snap as a macho Top 40 artist. In a life-before-his-eyes flash for Marcus, the MTV moon man promo flashes onscreen. What should be a profound, powerful sequence puts merchandising over the madness.
For a rapper who’s all about branding, 50 should consider this: His excellent breakthrough record now shares a name with his middling movie.