Cage tries the Snuff Stuff
"8MM" is a movie which seems to divide audiences you either think it a bit of self indulgent pap from director Joel Schumacher who brought us the genuine pap "Batman & Robin" or you think it's a much flawed but engrossing thriller exploring the darker side of the adult movie industry. For me I am on the side of the engrossing but flawed thriller as whilst there are a significant amount of problems it's a clever movie which draws you into the seedy world of snuff movies and in particular one man who is forced into this seedy under belly of life.
Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage - City of Angels), a home based private investigator spends most of his time on very normal low profile cases, still waiting for that big case to come his way. When he is approached by a rich widow with what appears to be a film reel with a snuff movie on he finds himself on a strange case to try and discover whether the young girl who appears to be murdered on the film is either dead or alive. Lead into the seedy underbelly of the porn industry by the helpful Max California (Joaquin Phoenix - Parenthood) this case becomes an obsession for Tom as he becomes determined to discover the truth to the point that he begins to drift away from his wife and young daughter.
"8mm" starts relatively solidly building up this picture of a small time, home based private investigator who leads a relatively normal home life, sweeping leaves in the yard and so on. And then as he starts investigating this snuff movie it becomes almost perversely engrossing as it leads us into this world of under the counter movies. The way he becomes infatuated and obsessed with the case, discovering who this young girl is and what actually happened is intriguins, strangely so as it feels wrong to be so intrigued in the macabre workings of the extreme porn industry.
That is until the whole feeling of "8mm" changes when it turns from this engaging thriller into a revenge movie. It may make sense that having become so obsessed with what he has seen and incensed by what has happened that he seeks some form of revenge but it is at complete odds with all the dark build up. It just doesn't fit in with the actual character of Tom and simply isn't right, too blatantly a main stream ending for what to be honest is not really a mainstream movie.
Despite this ruined ending one thing is for sure and off the failure of "Batman & Robin" director Joel Schumacher has tried to make amends with a dark and stylish movie. For me he has found the right tone, showing the under belly of the porn industry in an aggressively dark manner refraining from glamorizing it in any way and makes you feel wrong for becoming so engrossed in it all. Although saying that he throws all of that styling out of the window when it comes to the ending which not only feels wrong is also drawn out causing "8mm" to feel too long as it tries to find closure when closure is not actually necessary.
Another divisive element to "8mm" is actor Nicolas Cage who people tend to prefer doing quirky comedy yet here he is in full out drama mode, well full out slightly quirky drama. He actually does the job quite well showing the way being drawn into the world of extreme porn affects him, physically repulsed by what he has seen and left shaken by his own obsession with it. The character itself may not be the most solidly written, one of the major flaws of the movie, but Cage really acts the part well. And alongside Nicolas Cage is Joaquin Phoenix as the slightly quirky Max California his guide in to this seedy world of porn. It's a clever performance from Phoenix because the character is intentionally quite quirky yet he finds the right level of quirkiness keeping him in the right dark tone of the movie rather than turning him into a joke.
And making up the movie which it has to be said is minimal when it comes to characters is Catherine Keener who in a serious role plays Cage's wife, distressed and distraught by her husband's almost disappearance as he becomes obsessed with tracking down this young woman. It's not a big part but packed full of emotion which Keener delivers in a spot on manner blending anger with genuine upset at feeling abandoned by her husband. Plus there is James Gandolfini who is almost unrecognizable as the seedy Eddie Poole.
What this all boils down to is that "8mm" is interesting, it's stylish and it's engaging taking you on a journey into the illegal world of snuff movies. But it then delivers an action packed ending which is at odds with what went before and as such stretches things out making "8mm" over long. But despite this the combination of Cage and Phoenix works to make a movie which genuinely draws you into what is happening.