‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ a gangster rapper’s life

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Playing a fictional character based on his own real- life exploits, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson gives the world a glimpse of the emotional pain, physical violence and blind ambition that preceded his rise to hip-hop super stardom.

Marcus Greer (Jackson) is in hell. His once overindulgent mother, a fearless woman who dealt drugs to make ends meet, was brutally murdered. As a result, Greer is uprooted from his spacious home and crammed into the cold and wet basement at his grandmother’s house. Finally, his childhood sweetheart is sent away after her parents find a rap tape with explicit expressions of Greer’s love. The only thing left for Marcus to do is “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.”

Surprisingly understated and somewhat modest in interviews, the rapper known as 50 Cent used the same formula successfully in his acting as he does in his rapping to deliver a solid performance in his feature-film debut. Jackson does what most artists of his stature could not: He gets out of his own way and allows the film’s story line, its ensemble cast, and the sound track help carry the load.

In a moment of candor on the red carpet just minutes before the world premiere screening of the film on Nov. 2 Jackson admitted that he had “the jitters.” He then added how humbling it was for him to “work with great people like (director) Jim Sheridan and (actor) Bill Duke.”

“He put everything he had into the film,” said Terrence Howard (“Hustle ‘ Flow”) of Jackson’s performance. “People are going to be really surprised by his skills.”

The movie, similar to “Juice” and “New Jack City,” films that also starred rappers in their acting debuts, “Get Rich or Die Tryin” is an instant hip-hop movie classic. Although Jackson does not deliver the emotional energy that Tupac Shakur channeled playing the character of Bishop in “Juice,” like Ice-T’s Scotty Appleton in “New Jack City,” Jackson allows his co-stars to do the heavy lifting.

In one of the movie’s most poignant scenes, Marcus recovers from being shot nine times by his girlfriend Charlene, played brilliantly by actress Joy Bryant (“Antwone Fisher”) questions their future and Marcus’ manhood. When Charlene asks, “Is this it for us?” referring to their life in exile following the murder attempt, Marcus’ tearful reply seems genuine. Although Jackson is a gangster, he looks and acts vulnerable.

The most powerful scenes in the film are when Jackson plays the role of “a gangster, a rapper, and a gangster-rapper” – a play on words that provides the movie with a moment of levity.

With its all-star line-up of Howard, Bryant, Omar Benson Miller (“8 Mile”) and Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje (“The Bourne Identity”) “Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ” provides a true glimpse into the urban gangster life of crack, guns and cash.

Jackson’s on-camera persona, the reality aspect of the story and the supporting cast combine to create a moment so vivid, it no longer feels like a film, you are “in hell” with Marcus and there is only one way to get out-get rich or die tryin’!

Darren Dickerson can be reached at ane@sundial.csun.edu.