Tom Welles - Nicholas Cage
Amy Welles - Catherine Keener
Max California - Joaquin Phoenix
Eddie Poole - James Gandolfini
Longwell - Anthony Heald
Dino Velvet - Peter Stormare
This is a movie with a serious identity crisis. I have often had problems with movies that cannot decide which direction they want to go. So, instead of focusing on one, they try to balance them both, usually with not very good results (Con Air, coincidentally, with Cage, was a more recent example). 8MM cannot decide if it wants to be an adept psychological thriller, since it was written by the scribe of Seven, or if it wants to be a morality tale,
preaching to us about the evils of the world. Instead of focusing on one or the other, it spends the first 95 minutes as a taut, intense thriller, and the last 40 minutes like a Charles Bronson revenge-against-evil-to-eradicate-it-from-myself-and-the-world movie. Another tale of starting something good and not being able to finish (last example: Snake Eyes, also with Cage, sensing a trend here?). Two great directors, one actor in common, promising ideas, and bad final execution. Coincedence? You decide.
We begin promisingly, but disturbingly, enough with an introduction to Welles. He is a private detective, not really that sleazy, but with his little vices that he hides from his wife (Keener). He is hired by a rich widow to determine the source, cause, and truth behind a mysterious 8mm movie found in her late husband's vault. The film contains an apparent murder of a young girl, an urban myth known as a "snuff" film. The previews make it seem like what is on the film is disturbing, and parts of what we see are indeed chilling. But we are not really shown the most gruesome parts. This is to
1) not scare the audience away immediately, that comes later
2) to leave that air of mystery which the next hour and half is built around.
From this point, there are basically three questions to be answered. Is the film real and is the girl alive? Why did this happily married multi-millionaire
have this film in his vault? I figured that the next two hours or so would be spent delving into the darker side of pornography, trying to answer these, and other questions. What happened was that I was treated to a tense, suspenseful, definitely disturbing journey down a modern-day version of Dante's Levels of Hell. Each one getting progressively worse and sucking Welles down deeper in his search for the truth. This is where the movie gets hard to watch, there were two or three scenes that I couldn't look at. These are thrown in when the action seems to lag a bit, and the suspense wains slightly. They exist to shock us back to life, I suppose. His guide into this world is a Capote-quoting porn store clerk named Max California (Phoenix), whose character exists to usher Cage down this road, and really for no other. I would've enjoyed seeing this person delved into more, he seemed interesting, and to waste such a talented actor as Phoenix on this under-developed role, is indeed a waste.
So we're moseying creepily along down this depraved path. The clues and answers slowly unraveling, until we reach what seems like a suiting conclusion. I was satisfied with the movie, the dark imagery, the haunting visions, the creepy characters, that odd sitar Indian music, etc. A strong recommendation was coming. Then I checked my watch and realized there were still 40 minutes left! Where was there left to go, every one of the questions had been answered. Unfortunately, I found out. It turned into a morality tale, preaching to me about the evils of life, and the effect it can have on normal people. Also, that you must eradicate this evil, in order for your life to be complete. Now, I had no problem with this, if I hadn't been so misled as to thinking that the movie was going to be a dark psychological thriller, instead of Joel Schumacher's pulpit
Cage has never really been one of my favorites, I've tolerated him in Face/Off and Raising Arizona, and enjoyed him in Leaving Las Vegas. For the most part, however, he's been rather unimpressive. Here, he is intense, scowling, and effective as the detective who journeys into the depths of hell only to realize the bad things in his own life. No one performance here really stands out, although Peter Stormare is nicely over-the-top as the gothic porn producer.
Ultimately, I still have to recommend this movie, just not as strongly as I would've liked to. It is well made, well written, and effectively performed, but the execution is just slightly off, and the conclusion was a disappointment. Not because it wasn't well done, but because the movie shifts gears when it should've just stopped altogether. Catch this one at a matinee, but be forewarned, keep your hands close to your face. ($$1/2 of $$$$)
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