Get Rich Or Die Tryin looks beyond rappers image

As an actor, 50 Cent has zero charisma. As a rapper, he’s electrifying.

That’s the dilemma director Jim Sheridan faces in “Get Rich Or Die Tryin,’” starring 50 Cent and loosely based on his life — how to flesh out the “gangsta” image and reveal the emotion that makes 50 Cent such a powerful musical artist. It’s a tribute to Sheridan’s talent that he’s crafted a film that reveals the heart behind the horror that shaped the rapper.

50 Cent told one interviewer, “I spent so much time conditioning myself not to cry when bad things happen in my life, that I kind of suppress my feelings.” That’s probably a big reason he doesn’t show much promise as an actor, but the fact that he’s willing to show vulnerability and gentleness in “Get Rich Or Die Tryin’” says that there’s more here than meets the eye.

At first, it might seem strange that Sheridan, the Academy Award-winning Irish director of “My Left Foot” and “In the Name of the Father,” would be telling the story of a Black American rapper. But Sheridan saw a connection between his own tough childhood in Dublin, and his struggle to “make it” in this country chronicled in the award-winning “In America,” and 50 Cent’s life as the son of a drug-dealing mother murdered when he was 8. Sheridan understands that you can’t change where you came from but, if you get lucky, you can control where you end up.

“Get Rich Or Die Tryin’” generated controversy with its poster showing 50 Cent with his arms outstretched, a microphone in one hand and a gun in the other. Black community activists in Los Angeles protested billboards for the movie because of the destruction that gun violence has brought to their neighborhoods. Not to diminish their outrage nor claim that my opinion is the right one, but my take on the poster is that it was supposed to convey that choice. 50 Cent, who took up drug dealing himself after his mother’s death, could stick with drugs, violence and death or he could use his talent to take another path.

There’s plenty of murder and mayhem in “Get Rich Or Die Tryin,’” so much so that film critic Roger Ebert said the title should have been “I Got Rich But Just About Everybody Else Died Tryin.’” That’s a funny line and the movie itself has a lot of humor despite its grim story, “75 percent” of which is true, according to 50 Cent (whose real name is Curtis Jackson).

In the end, the director and the rapper, no strangers to the hardscrabble life, seem to be saying there’s a better way if you have the courage to look for it.