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Private investigator Tom Welles is hired by the recently widowed Mrs. Christian who has found a startling pornographic film in her late husband's possessions. In the film a teenage girl is apparently killed and Welles is pretty sure it's a genuine snuff film. He takes the case, first going through records of runaways finally identifying the girl and learning that she may have run off to California. There he enters the seedy underworld of pornography with the help of Max California, a porn store clerk. His principal clue is the masked man who killed the girl as he has a unique tattoo on his hand. He soon finds the culprits but there is little satisfaction in resolving the mystery. Written by
Disquieting but effective for mature audiences. *** out of ****.
8MM / (1999) ***
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Catherine Keener, and Amy Morton Directed by Joel Schumacher. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Running time: 123 minutes. Rated R (for strong sexual content, nudity, violence, and for strong language).
By Blake French:
Joel Schumacher's new disquieting thriller, "8MM," is the kind of movie that starts out hesitantly calm, but contains an atmosphere where potentially detestable material may become apparent, as if the film is preparing us for something much more bellicose. Sure enough, a half hour into the picture, we take possession of plot points regarding subjects beyond human imagination. Our very effective condition propels us into a sleazy world of hard core adult contents. "8MM" is a tense, dramatic production with tantalizing dialogue and a driving theme of action. There is a scene in the film in which a character explains a relative, although somewhat overlooked, concept. "When you dance with the devil, you don't change the devil--the devil changes you," he declares as he walks down a long, dark ally with another character.
Nicolas Cage stars as Tom Welles, a highly acclaimed private detective living with his wife Amy (Catherine Keener), and their newborn son in a homey, relaxed country house. As the film opens, he is called upon by the widow of an important political man, Mrs. Mathews (Amy Morton). This elderly woman has discovered the contents of her late husband's secret safe and his extremely concerned about some of them. Most of the objects found in the safe are normal. One in particular, however, a film strip, is not what you would call ordinary, but suspicious and concealed. Mrs. Mathews explains to Tom what he will see on this tape is something of unimaginable terror. Tom views the 8mm tape, watching in horror as a young girl is raped and brutally beaten to death in front of a camera operator, a silent viewer, and a muscular man wearing all sorts of S&M clothing. The well-developed conflict brought to our attention at this point: Mrs. Matthews is requiring Tom to find out if the tragic events that occur on tape are real or not, and if her husband had anything to do with this atrocity.
Welles opens a missing person's case and reports to his wife that he will be away for a few weeks on duty. He first searches through countless files containing young kidnapping victims. The results: a fifteen year old girl named Marianne who ran away from home six years ago with the company of her boyfriend as they were heading towards Hollywood, California. Next, he converses with several key characters including her depressed mother, a scruffy acquaintance, and her so called boyfriend who is now serving time in prison. He claims Marianne ran off to work at a strip club. These characters point Tom in the direction of an underworld of "snuff" movies, where he meets an adult book store clerk named Max California (Joaquin Phoenix). He and Max become friends. After some negotiating, our fellow porn genius agrees to share his knowledge with Tom and lead him to the makers of the 8mm snuff film. There we meet Eddie Poole, a perverted photographer, (James Gandolfini), Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare), a disquieted man who believes smut to be a form of art, and The Machine, the man in the S&M mask who murdered Marianne in the video Mrs. Mathews found.
"8MM" has an excellently developed setup. A setup that indicates us on the snuff film, as well as the setting, character motives, personalities, dramatic premise, and plot points. The only component that is missing is the history and or in depth elaboration on Tom Welles. With such an important character, one who drives the entire narrative through line, we need to feel a lot of empathy so that we may root for him. Unfortunately, the filmmakers present the audience with only the minimum introduction. The side characters are also descriptive. In their own presence, contribute to both the story and atmosphere.
Director Joel Schumacher's work has always been some of my favorite. With movies like "Falling Down," "Flawless," and "Batman & Robin," I was never expecting him to construct a dark, grim, film such as "8MM." This feature is tasteless and nasty, repulsive and unsettling--while all these bases are relentless within the context of the plot. No doubt many audiences will be offended throughout, perhaps even to the point of where they walk out of the theater. This is a production on the verge of an NC-17 rating and is adult in every atom of its being. The perverse and gritty character motives and mature subject matters all fitted appropriately here, but the film still goes over the top in many areas.
Some of the movie's characters are a bit too obvious. The villain, for instance, I could predict from the first five minutes he is on screen. Whenever there is a character who seems to have no cause or purpose in the plot, he is normally the bad guy. Here, although the character twists are effective and the casting is brilliant, we receive several clinches that many views will be able to detect immediately.
Nicolas Cage is obviously the right choice for Tom Welles, a man who is more submissive than brutal, but is placed in a situation where deep down he desires bloodshed, but knows his morals challenge him otherwise. "8MM" is a movie that frolics with this character's emotions and values, and at the same time lives up to a premise that is way out of his league.
Brought to you by Columbia Pictures.
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