1 item from 1999
Joel Schumacher's "Eight Millimeter", which centers on a private investigator drawn into the brutal underbelly of the sex industry, is adequate moviemaking but highly questionable entertainment.
The Columbia release is a thriller that uncomfortably becomes what it is attempting to demonize -- violent, socially debased exploitation movies. Not even a gifted cast and talented filmmakers can explicate its confused ideology.
Strong above-the-line talent and a heavy studio advertising campaign should yield strong opening weekend numbers, but it's unlikely the film, on display at the Berlin Film Festival, will outlive the controversy likely generated by its grim subject matter. Women particularly will be turned off by the material.
Scripted by Andrew Kevin Walker ("Seven"), "8MM" is ambitious with its opening title sequence that evokes Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" and other references to Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom". But the film quickly disintegrates.
The always interesting Nicolas Cage plays Tom Welles, a skilled surveillance expert hired by the estate of a powerful industrialist to determine the authenticity of an apparent "snuff film" uncovered in his private collection. The work reveals brutally explicit footage of a young woman being stabbed to death.
Welles ascertains from the stock that the footage was shot six years earlier. He begins the painstaking task of reconstructing her identity and movements. Some private moments between Cage and the girl's mother, Amy Morton (Catherine Keener), have poignancy and emotional honesty absent throughout the rest of the film. Keener has the unfortunate task of breathing life into inert scenes that illustrate the family tension that Cage's task occasions.
Increasingly obsessed with finding the truth, Welles turns up a shadowy network of porn hustlers and exploitation filmmakers, moving from the somber and gray Northeast to sun-drenched Los Angeles and finally, to a hyper-adrenalized New York. The California sections convey the desperate, skid row lifestyle of the outlaw culture, with Welles aided by streetwise Max (Joaquin Phoenix).
But beginning with an extended sequence in a New York garage, where Welles has a showdown with the responsible players, "8MM" quickly falls apart. The emotional and moral weight Schumacher and Walker strain for in examining the consequences of Welles' infiltration into this moral void is suddenly replaced by a perverse, highly unmotivated retribution. As if to cancel out its right-wing notions of vengeance, it also offers a vaguely Marxist critique of the perils of privilege and power.
Technically "8MM" reveals the hand of significant talent. Composer Mychael Danna, who has done superb work for Atom Egoyan, creates a rich and varied musical accompaniment. Like his effort on "Boogie Nights", cinematographer Robert Elswit excels with the muscular, free-form widescreen framing.
But they are defeated by the material. By the end, "8MM" is by-the-numbers stuff with little personal investment or a coherent line of thought to legitimize the behavior it is so hellbent on proving its moral superiority over.
Sony Pictures Releasing
Producers: Gavin Polone, Judy Hofflund
Producer-director: Joel Schumacher
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker
Director of photography: Robert Elswit
Music: Mychael Danna
Editor: Mark Stevens
Costumes: Mona May
Production design: Gary Wissner
Tom Welles: Nicolas Cage
Max: Joaquin Phoenix
Eddie: James Gandolfini
Dino: Peter Stormare
Longdale: Anthony Heald
Machine: Chris Bauer
Amy: Catherine Keener
Running time -- 125 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 1999
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