For a superstar known as a ticking time bomb, Eminem is a surprisingly savvy businessman. While his pop-chart peers Britney Spears and Mariah Carey broke into film with vehicles that cemented their status as walking punchlines, Eminem assembled outstanding collaborators for his own debut, 8 Mile, which comes closer to Mike Leigh's grim working-class realism than Hype Williams' flashiness. Directed by Curtis Hanson, co-edited by Jay Rabinowitz, and shot by Amores Perros cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, 8 Mile stars Eminem as an aspiring rapper choking on the poverty, stale air, and broken dreams of his trailer-park life. To dull the pain of their rudderless existence, he and his friends drive around, smoke pot, burn down abandoned buildings, and generally behave like multicultural, Midwestern versions of the kids from Saturday Night Fever, another bleak working-class character study driven by a mesmerizing central star turn. But where John Travolta found escape on the dance floor, Eminem finds salvation and redemption in battle-rapping, a take-no-prisoners form of lyrical combat that places a heavy emphasis on improvisation and crowd reaction. Brittany Murphy co-stars as Eminem's unpredictable and pragmatic quasi-love interest, an aspiring model who sees him as her way out of Detroit, but who seems willing to hitch her fortunes to somebody else in case he doesn't work out. Effortlessly authentic in its depiction of working-class despair and the hope engendered by hip-hop's promise of upward social mobility, 8 Mile brings to the forefront the lower-class anger bubbling just under the surface of Eminem's music. On a superficial level, 8 Mile is essentially Rocky by way of Purple Rain. Scott Silver's script follows a familiar arc that takes the rapper from humiliation and self-doubt to triumph and self-confidence, but the film's absolute conviction keeps it from feeling formulaic. By this point, even blue-haired grandmas will realize that the Eminem saga doesn't end with the rapper working at McDonald's and sharing a basement apartment with Vanilla Ice, but 8 Mile plunges so deep into the hopelessness of its setting that his success never feels preordained. Since his ascension to pop-culture royalty, Eminem has transformed the messy emotions of his life into musical black comedy. In 8 Mile, that life becomes an equally riveting drama.