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Movie Review

It's a hard-knock life for Marcus Greer, who's just trying to survive adolescence in the ghetto. Tough is a big understatement when your father isn't around and your mom's busy pushing drugs. So Marcus learns to cope by pouring himself into writing rap lyrics.

But when Mom gets murdered and he's forced to live with his extended family, the preteen discovers that hustling is the fast track to fast cash. Drug dealing quickly turns into gangbanging and senseless violence. And Marcus finds himself entrenched in a system that keeps him loaded in more ways than one. Add to that, drug lord Majestic has become the father he's always wanted.

Fast-forward a few years: Marcus is thrown in jail for drug possession, and it's a wakeup call. With renewed determination to become a bona fide hip-hop star, he sets out to grab that coveted record label deal. But cutting clean from the gangsta lifestyle is easier said than done. And with Majestic and his past breathing down his neck, freedom always seems to be just out of reach.

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Positive Elements

Marcus is determined to make a break from the gangsta path. Even when his prison cellmate/manager, Bama, mentions resorting to violence and dealing drugs for both cash and revenge, Marcus opts to forsake his old lifestyle and pursue rapping. (There's a flip-side negative to this which I'll mention in "Other Negative Elements.") Eventually, he determines to take care of his girlfriend, Charlene, and newborn son. His tight-knit posse of friends sticks up for him through thick and thin, offering his family the same protection and help.

Spiritual Content

A minister recites Psalm 23 at a funeral. Marcus' extended family prays before a meal, while his posse playfully says "Praise the Lord" and "Hallelujah" when they discover their boss is enjoying Charlene's company rather than working the streets.

Head gangster Lavar tells an admiring Marcus, "I am God. I'm God, Allah, Buddha ... all rolled into one big n-gga." He later admits to praying to God, "but nothing happened, so I prayed to your mother and asked her to talk to God for me."

The aspiring rapper wears a cross necklace throughout most of the movie. And during a concert back in his old stomping grounds (where he could potentially lose his life), a large cross serves as the backdrop. "Young Cesar," as Marcus is also known, appears onstage with outstretched arms and tears off his shirt to show his bullet scars (the crucifixion/resurrection symbolism is hard to miss). One of his oft-repeated tunes includes the lyric, "You can pray for a miracle, and God might be handy." He mockingly calls a fellow artist a "Jehovah's Witness" for his light skin.

Sexual Content

A lengthy scene shows Marcus and Charlene having sex. Breast and rear nudity are prominent, as well as explicit sexual motions and positions. Several men get into a fight in a prison shower where the camera captures full-frontal nudity. And at other times, bare breasts and backsides get full-screen attention. Cleavage-revealing tops are seen numerous times. And during a couple of club scenes, sexualized dancing is highlighted.

Though he's not even a teenager, Marcus records a rap for an even younger Charlene that mentions being best friends by engaging in petting, "humping" and oral sex. Marcus narrates that he and his posse were dedicated to one thing: "gettin' paid and gettin' laid." More than a few other crude and vulgar remarks are made.

Violent Content

For all its rags-to-riches ambitions, Get Rich or Die Tryin' is a gangsta tale that does little more than showcase the various violent ways scores are settled in the 'hood. People are held at gunpoint on countless occasions, including one robbery attempt that ends up with a little boy having a gun held to his head and a security guard getting shot in the leg.

Numerous gang members get riddled with bullets during drive-bys. An irate store owner opens fire on innocent teenagers. Marcus seeks revenge for a now-paralyzed friend by gunning down his attacker, even though the man cries for mercy. Listeners in a studio are killed by up-close gunfire. A kidnapped man is shot repeatedly in the chest.

In a bloody scene that's replayed and slowed down for maximum impact, Marcus gets shot in the chest, back, leg, hand and face. Another man gets a bullet to the chest, then is shot offscreen two more times. As the camera pans back to his bloodied, crumpled body, we see a bullet hole in his forehead.

Marcus' mother gets knocked out (and possibly raped, though it's not shown), doused in gasoline and set ablaze (along with a house) by a fellow hustler. Earlier, she's roughed up during a street-side argument.

Majestic repeatedly stabs one of his own thugs with a long blade, which we see protruding out of the man's back. The mobster also orders one of his henchman to yank the gold teeth out of a Judas who's being tortured in front of the entire gang. We're forced to watch as blood streams from the man's mouth. His screams are eventually silenced with a plastic bag. Another bloodied body is wrapped in cellophane and dumped in a garbage truck.

After documenting all of that, it seems pointless to mention that punches are exchanged by several characters, but there you have it. A prisoner swipes at others with a sharp object, Marcus pummels an attacker's face, and guards viciously club a would-be attacker. During another scuffle, heads are butted and slammed against the ground, and one man tries to strangle another.

Crude or Profane Language

The f-word is pervasive (exceeding the 200 mark) and is regularly used in both a sexual manner and in combination with "mother." The s-word also gets a workout and can be heard more than 60 times. (Both are spoken, sung, rapped and written.) A couple of times crude slang is used to reference genitals. The epithet "n-gga" is ever-present. God's name is combined with "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Since part of the gangsta lifestyle is pushing and using drugs, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol all get lots of screen time. Majestic shows off his "pure crystal [methamphetamine]" and, combining cocaine with baking soda and ice, gives his pushers (and moviegoers) a step-by-step lesson on how to make it. A club girl is roughed up for smoking crack, while other women are shown with stashes of weed. Marcus' young uncle and a friend smoke hash while laying down a rap track. Marcus gets caught with drugs at school, and later he and his entire posse are thrown in jail for possession. Hennessey, Cristal and other hard liquors get poured and downed, as do various beers.

Other Negative Elements

Marcus' ambition to leave the gangsta life behind seems noble, but he resorts to holding up a store to speed up the funding process for his new career. In addition, his rap dreams aren't solely based on fleeing his past; Marcus is vocal about his intent to humiliate his old gang members, and his violent, spiteful, obscenity-laden rhymes become verbal bullets directed at them.

A young Marcus throws himself into pushing drugs, following in the footsteps of his mother, who, while alive, reasoned that "Momma's gotta work to buy you those sneakers." Marcus buys into her shallow motives and logic.

Caught up in his new thug lifestyle, a high school-age Marcus lambastes his grandfather (who took him in after his mom's death) for being a "second-class n-gga" simply because the old man works hard for little money. He also blames his grandfather for getting busted for drugs, claiming, "I wouldn't have got caught if I didn't have to hide who I really am. I'm a gangsta, and I'm proud of it."

On several occasions, Lavar alludes to the fact that he regularly pays off cops. As a boy, Marcus buys a gun, then fantasizes about shooting someone with it.

Conclusion

It was 2003 when 50 Cent took the hip-hop world by storm. His debut album, which shares the same title as this movie, was the biggest debut in SoundScan history and has sold more than 12 million copies. His follow-up, The Massacre, also slashed its way into the record books as 50 Cent became the only artist besides The Beatles to have four songs simultaneously among Billboard's Top-10 singles.

In two short years, the rookie rapper (with some help from avid supporters Eminem and Dr. Dre) has established himself not only as a top artist, but also as an opportunistic entrepreneur. He's built his own record label, opened a clothing line, marketed a sneaker, sold bottled water, concocted a fragrance, written a book and created a video game. So it was only a matter of time before he, following the new get-rich-or-die-tryin' code for hip-hop artists, tried his hand at acting in a big-budget movie.

"Fiddy," as he's also known, insists his film isn't completely autobiographical, despite its many similarities to the story he tells about himself—a street kid who got shot nine times, then left the gangsta life behind for the hip-hop one. "It's not exactly my story," he said. "It's a collage based on my life." Somehow that doesn't make me feel any better about it.

Director Jim Sheridan (The Boxer, My Left Foot) and screenwriter Terence Winter (a former Sopranos scribe) certainly hit you between the eyes with the hardships of growing up on the streets. But by concentrating so hard on establishing that gritty environment, they end up celebrating what's wrong more than highlighting what's right.

And that's the very thing so many gangsta rappers do with their music. 50 Cent is a prime example of this. He claims to have broken free from his gangbanging past, yet he brags endlessly about its violence in nearly every line of his lyrics.

He, of course, disagrees. But while he does so, he also admits just how much entertainment's messages and images matter: "My life, and the movie, is not glorifying gangs. I wasn't in a gang, as such. I was in business for myself. I know movies have an influence. I grew up on Scarface and Casino, and they do inspire you to bust a head or to pull your pistol out when the time comes, but kids aren't that dumb. They condition themselves to the visual."

Isn't that exactly the problem? Whether enamored with images of brutality and killing, or numbed to it, kids (and adults, too) do respond to them. Just as a young Marcus says in the movie, "Parents think you see nothing, but the truth is you see everything."

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Plot Summary

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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