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Get Rich or Die Tryin'

Fiddy Sells His Soul to Get Rich

Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson is not the most expressive actor, and perhaps that should come as no surprise. In Get Rich or Die Tryin', the story of his hard-knock life before his rise to fame as a rapper, he is resolutely stoic, to the point of seeming, at times, as if he's made of materials less flexible than flesh and blood. "Men hide their emotions," Charlene tells Marcus, his thinly veiled alter ego. "You bury yours."

So maybe Fiddy isn't the most animated character, on or off the screen. That doesn't sink his mostly impressive debut, a rags-to-riches tale in the spirit of Hustle & Flow, 8 Mile and even Rocky. Sure, he's a bit rougher around the edges than Stallone, who never capped rival gangstas or pushed crack on the city streets, but would it surprise you that Marcus is really a big, muscle-bound teddy bear at heart?

To be sure, his story is fantastic and oddly inspiring. Marcus is the son of a pretty drug dealer (Serena Reeder) who is murdered during his adolescence, and he is driven by, if nothing else, a desire for material wealth. It doesn't come easily. He is surrounded by abject poverty, and when the other kids laugh at his tattered sneakers, he can only dream of the day he'll be able to afford the good life -- the hippest threads, the shiniest bling, the flashiest cars. So he becomes a small-time dealer, selling dimebags on the corner and using the profits to buy his first gun.

Marcus has an extraordinary work ethic, but dealing drugs is never a solo endeavor, and soon he finds himself precariously linked to Majestic (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a longtime gangsta who may or may not have killed his mother. The partnership yields dividends, at first, but Marcus has never abandoned his childhood desire to be a rapper. After a stint in the pen and an unexpected reunion with his old sweetheart, Charlene (Joy Bryant), he pursues that dream, cutting his ties with Majestic and distancing himself from the gang.

He realizes that dream, of course, but not before getting shot nine times by an old colleague. That he survives and goes on to become a top-selling artist is nothing short of incredible, and in that sense, Get Rich or Die Tryin' is the ultimate capitalist fairy tale. Still, it makes for a confounding morality play. Like Eminem, Rocky and DJay, the ambitious pimp from Hustle & Flow, Marcus overcomes the odds and earns the fame he's been dreaming about ever since he was a boy. But to say he's a morally ambiguous hero would be classic understatement. He's an ultra-violent thug when it suits his interests, and his lack of introspection is disturbing.

This isn't a psychological analysis of 50 Cent, though, it's a movie review, and director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America) has coaxed a passable performance out of his star and presented his remarkable tale in compelling fashion. Get Rich or Die Tryin' may not be the story of a hero, but it's a story worth telling.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars