This violent, confronting and unrelentingly sleazy crime
thriller ultimately seems like Hardcore crossed with the more violent
elements of Death Wish.
Pennsylvania based private investigator Tom Welles (Nicolas
Cage) is hired to investigate a spool of 8mm film that turns up in the
belongings of a dead industrialist. The film is a "snuff" movie, in
which a young girl is brutally murdered on camera by a man in a
leather mask. Welles is hired to trace the movie's origins, and
determine whether the girl was actually murdered or not.
What begins as a seemingly conventional detective thriller
soon descends into a heart of darkness as Welles is drawn into the
unfamiliar, sordid pornographic underworld of Los Angeles and New
York. This is a world where teenage runaways and hopeful starlets
become the innocent prey of amoral predators, and indecently wealthy
and powerful businessmen can afford to have snuff films made purely
for their own vicarious pleasure.
The more Welles learns about this amoral world, the further he
finds himself drifting away from his comfortable domestic life with
his wife (Catherine Keener) and baby daughter. He feels that the only
way he can cleanse himself of this grubby environment is through
killing the pornographers themselves. The fact that Welles can only
find redemption for his lost soul by becoming a vigilante raises a
number of dubious moral issues. However, unlike the controversial
Lolita, which at least makes an effort to explore tricky moral issues,
8MM steadfastly remains a blank page, almost as though it lacks the
courage of its convictions.
Even though 8MM is undeniably and hypnotically compelling,
despite its repellent subject matter, it certainly does not make for
an entertaining time at the movies. But then again, we wouldn't
expect something light from Andrew Kevin Walker, who previously wrote
the gritty thriller Seven. Walker seems to have a predilection for
exploring moral corruption and twisted psychopaths.
This is an uncharacteristically dark and disturbing thriller
from Joel Schumacher, whose previous films (The Client, Batman
Forever, etc) have always had a glossy surface and a slick,
accomplished feel. 8MM is deliberately shot in dark tones by
cinematographer Robert Elswit, creating an even more oppressive and
Cage brings an intensity to his role here, and does a quite
convincing job of portraying Welles' growing sense of anger and
outrage. Joaquim Phoenix brings a welcome touch of comic relief to
the film as Max, the punkish adult book store clerk, who becomes
Welles' guide into the sordid back streets inhabited by the illicit
8MM is not pleasant viewing, and it leaves a nasty aftertaste
that takes a long while to disappear.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King