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8mm
1999 - R - 123 Mins.
Director: Joel Schumacher
Producer: Judy Hofflund & Joel Schumacher
Written By: Andrew Kevin Walker
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare and Catherine Keener
Review by: John Ulmer
   
Like many Hollywood films of today, "8mm" starts out promising but soon becomes tedious, overlong and anticlimactic – the final showdown between hero and villain is far too crazy, over-the-top and unbelievable for a film that deals with such serious content.

In between the stupid parts there are some genuinely good ones, and I can only imagine how – in the hands of a better director and, perhaps, a more talented cast – the story could well have succeeded.

Joel Schumacher, who helmed the project, is good at what he does and sometimes turns in some genuinely excellent films (such as the "Taxi Driver"esque comedy-thriller "Falling Down"). But for every good film he makes, there are at least two bad ones – "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin" come to mind.

Here, Schumacher borrows a few nifty tricks from David Fincher while adding his own distinct visual flavor – resulting in a movie that’s great to look at. Nicolas Cage stars as Tom Welles, a private eye hired by a mysterious woman to uncover the origins behind a “snuff film” found inside her late husband’s private vault. The reel of footage, an 8mm print, starts as a sick porno flick and soon turns into a violent and realistic piece of evidence that depicts the (apparent) murder of a young girl.

Tom makes some calls and soon finds out that the girl was a 16-year-old runaway who’s been missing for seven years. He investigates her past, following a cold trail that leads into a seedy underworld of sex, pornography and violence.

Along the way he teams up with an oddball named Max California (Joaquin Phoenix), who takes Tom into the “devil’s lair” – where they come face-to-face with an eccentric porn king (Peter Stormare, the silent kidnapper from 'Fargo') and a rough producer (James Gandolfini).

The movie relies on Nicolas Cage who gives such an honest and believable performance that there are times when the film seems to be much better than it really is. Unfortunately many of the co-stars seem to be wasting space – the character of Max, for example, is truly pointless, as it offers nothing and is simply a convenient way of carrying Tom from one situation to the next.

Andrew Kevin Walker, the man who penned "Se7en", scripted '8mm.' If David Fincher ("Se7en, Fight Club") had been handed this movie, no doubt the characters would have been expanded upon, the Hollywood ending would have been dropped; the deep themes of the material that occasionally shine through would have been made clearer and more abundant, and the film’s dialogue wouldn’t be so stiff at times.

Because there are moments in '8mm' where we can sense just how great it could have been – there is a segment towards the end where the sick porn “actor” who brutalizes rape victims claims that he does what he does because he likes to, and not because he was abused as a child or anything to such an effect. Then there’s the character of Tom. Much could be written about the closing moments of the movie and his evolution throughout, but it would no doubt spoil part of the surprise. Suffice to say, after all is said and done, we get the feeling that Tom will never be able to return to society – at least not normally. He’s been deeply scarred by his journey, and the memories will never stop haunting him. He is clearly plagued by questions about his own sexuality as he goes home to his family and cries – not only for victims of so-called “snuff films,” but also for himself.

The little elements like these are clever and insightful but the rest of the film is uneven and, ultimately, disappointing.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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