Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005)

Cynthia Fuchs

Jim Sheridan notes, 'There's no initiation anymore for young men. They just grow up and there's nowhere to put these confused feelings that they have.'"

Get Rich or Die Tryin'

Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: Curtis (50 Cent) Jackson, Terrence Howard, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount
First date: 2005
US DVD Release Date: 2006-03-28
Amazon affiliate
I'm up early in the mornin', tryna make a movie.
-- 50 Cent, "I'll Whip Ya Head Boy"

Two countries I'm not number one in. Soon as this film is over,
I'm going there to find out why I'm not.
-- 50 Cent, "A Portrait of an Artist: The Making of Get Rich or Die Tryin'"

Point Theatre in Dublin, September 2005. "A Portrait of an Artist: The Making of Get Rich or Die Tryin'" begins with 50 on stage, performing for an adoring crowd. "I want the finer things in my life," he raps, " So I hustle." The kids go wild, the camera bounces around some, and then he announces that he's about to release a new film, directed by Jim Sheridan, whom he identifies for this crowd as the man who made My Left Foot. You know, back in 1989. Ah well, he's Irish. Perhaps the 50 fans will remember him.

"I've always loved rap," says Sheridan when the film cuts to him on a bus. "I don't know why. U2 are friends of mine, and Bono in particular." The connection between these ideas is not entirely clear, expect that 50 appears in a wide angle on a cell phone, calling Bono's name. So now you know: Get Rich or Die Tryin' is Bono's fault.

"Portrait of an Artist" suggests the film was conceived amid competing impulses: Jimmy Iovine wanted to make a gangster movie, someone else wanted to make The Sopranos, and Sheridan wanted to make an "Irish film about a family with a gangster story beside it." While the director and his new rap friend walk the streets of Dublin, gathering inspiration and posing for photos with white kids in hip-hop gear, Terrence Howard extols Sheridan's gifts (which are considerable, of course). "He wrote the script without knowing any of us," marvels Howard. You know, like most people write movies.

"The search for the father" theme that Sheridan describes structures Get Rich. This even as 50 denies he ever cared about finding his own father; according to Sheridan, "It's there in him." It opens with Marcus' shooting -- based on 50's famous "nine times" -- by a hoodied associate, who does, in his way, love him like family. As he lies broken in the street, Marcus' voiceover wonders why he was waiting for his father to come rescue him, a thought that leads directly to the requisite young-boy flashback. Marcus (Marc John Jeffries) lives with his mom, feisty, hoop-earringed Katrina (Serena Reeder). She tries hard to show her love, dealing to supply him with new sneakers ("I love you," she explains, as she heads off to work the corner), and his own efforts to protect her (observing her in a turf scuffle with the "Rick-James-looking motherfucker" Slim [Leon], Marcus approaches with a steering wheel club).

Killed when Marcus is only eight years old, Katrina leaves him with the instruction to "treat women right." This lesson turns exponentially more poignant when she's beaten and burned to death by a rival dealer in her home, leaving little Marcus to hunker down in a corner at his grandparents', determined to hide his emotions from then on. And oh yes, he won't be treating anyone right. Marcus starts looking for his father, noting early on, "Everyone was in love with my mom, so anyone could be my dad," except, he adds, a white man or a cop.

His isolation is ameliorated by family and conventional romance: he's supported by his Grandma (Viola Davis), Grandpa (Sullivan Walker), and Charlene (child Rhyon Nicole Brown, grown up Joy Bryant), Marcus' one true love. Sent away as a child by a stepfather who hears in young Marcus' lyrics ("If you're my best friend / I want you around all the time") too much physical inclination, she returns to their Jamaica Queens neighborhood as a dance teacher who, she admits adorably, has "been thinking about that song for 10 years." Though Marcus mentions her "career" when she tells him she's pregnant with his child, you never see her dance or teach, only gaze on Marcus, encourage his art, and forgive his frankly egregious trespasses. Her primary function in this homosocial romance, however, is to secure his heterosexuality.

Beset, taciturn, and occasionally noble, Marcus takes up dealing himself, soliciting declarations of loyalty and affection from everyone around him, from relatives to homeboys to would-be killers. Certainly, the film wants you to love him. Full of earnest conversations about how important it is to "express yourself" even (or especially) when you're oppressed by poverty, violence, and lack of options, it frames Marcus repeatedly in those evocative filtered-light frames favored by director Sheridan and DP Declan Quinn, so he appears in lovely sunlit halos.

Such visual softening underlines Marcus' fundamental decency as he pursues his desire to know his father. The search, which Sheridan describes as spiritual as well as physical, leads him to a series of relationships with men, including head gangster Levar (played by Bill Duke and introducing himself as "God, Allah, and Buddha, all rolled up into one big nigger"), brutal Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and most notably, Marcus' cellmate Bama (Howard). "I fuckin' love you man, I'd do anything for you," Bama says during a robbery, when he almost kills a young boy because, he explains, "That's what I do, I kill motherfuckers, you know that!"

Marcus does know that, as a flashback to their first meeting in a prison shower demonstrates. When Marcus is assaulted by a shank-wielding inmate, Bama jumps right into the melee, wherein several naked, hard-bodied men are soon slipping and sliding in water and soap and blood. The scene -- which lasts a couple of minutes, held in long shot to emphasize its awkwardness and vehemence -- cuts to Bama and Marcus, now friends for life, handcuffed and naked on the shower floor, side by side. "You saved my life," says Marcus. Why?" As Bama eventually reveals, it was love at first sight. (In the documentary, 50 declares, "I didn't intend on being nude in the film, now I'm naked in it. Jim Sheridan could talk me into pretty much anything.")

Bama's subsequent offer to be his manager boosts Marcus' decision to dedicate himself to rapping; when someone slips a razor blade into his cell so he can kill himself, Marcus starts carving lyrics into his wall, so you know he's serious. (50's only full-on rap performance, as Marcus' alter ego Young Caesar, comes under the film's closing credits -- this seems an odd decision, given 50's remarkable stage presence). The partners' release from prison leads to increasingly nasty collisions with Majestic, who feels possessive toward Marcus. As Majestic sees it, he wants his "hardest working" dealer to help in their ongoing turf wars with "the Colombians" (utterly stereotypical here). As Marcus starts to feel it, Majestic wants too much, loyalty unto death. That much love, he can't give. Over footage of 50 and Howard in a studio, working on a track, Sheridan notes, "There's no initiation anymore for young men. They just grow up and there's nowhere to put these confused feelings that they have."

Just so, the film circles back to Marcus' shooting, reframed as a rebirth. As Marcus lies on an ER surgery table, doctors hovering over him and marveling that he's still breathing, the scene cuts back to Katrina giving birth, all screams and sweat and pain. Perverse and almost operatic, the sequence suggests mom's redoubtable strength and Marcus' endless regret over all those violent trespasses. Now that he's facing death, he's rethinking. (And 50 recalls his own shooting in the making of the scene: PAs pour fake blood in his mouth as 50 says, "Everyone else on the set that's watching is not seeing what I'm seeing.")

If violence tests "character," the movie suggests that lyrical battle is the most potent form of truth-telling. But this is only the case when the teller is "authentic," has endured and inflicted pain. Sheridan appreciates 50's survival, admires his toughness and charm and enjoys his sense of humor. Toward the end of the documentary, Sheridan says he told 50 not to "throw the money," and then you see that 50 does throw money -- into the street as the production crew is leaving a Bronx location. Bystanders spill over police barriers to grab at the bills, boys gasp that 50 has thrown "real money, man," and Sheridan wonders at the decision.

"It was like having a lot of bees around the hive," he says. "Everywhere, little kids were under our wheels, and I lost my temper." Girls squeal and weep, kids rush and push. As quickly as it comes over him, Sheridan's anger passes, and soon he's planning a birthday celebration for his star, including a cake with 50 candles. Now comes the big 50 smile. "Every day's my birthday," he beams.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.