Monday 23 May 2011

Movie Review: 8mm (1999)

A journey to the darkest corners of human depravity, 8mm is unrelenting in portraying the depth of callous evil that men are capable of. It is also an absorbing movie, director Joel Schumacher succeeding in capturing the wretchedness of the extreme porn sub-industry, where soulless people engage in soul destruction.

Private investigator Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) is married to Amy (Catherine Keener) and has a newborn child. Eager to take on higher profile, better-paying cases, Welles seems to get a big break when wealthy widow Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) and her attorney Daniel Longdale (Anthony Heald) retain him to investigate what appears to be a snuff film found in the deceased Mr. Christian's safe.

Mrs. Christian wants Welles to find out if the girl who appears to be murdered in the film was actually killed, and will pay handsomely for the information.

By investigating missing persons cases, Welles identifies the victim as Mary Ann Mathews, a runaway who fled an abusive household to pursue a Hollywood dream. Welles is soon exploring the most sordid underbelly of the porn industry in LA with the help of local store clerk Max California (Joaquin Phoenix). They finally identify porn film producer Eddie Poole (James Gandolfini), director Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare) and brutal performer Machine (Chris Bauer) as responsible for Mary Ann's death-on-film.

The details of the case devour Welles' soul and threaten his family. Destroying the group of apathetic snuff film makers becomes a personal obsession and a journey into the blackest recesses of humanity.

8mm quickly de-glamorizes the excesses of the porn industry by shining a harsh light on the twisted minds that both manufacture and consume it. Schumacher infuses the film with the smell of moral and actual filth, while cautioning that walking with the devil is often a one-way trip.

With the movie never taking a break for a cheap laugh or a relaxing breath, Welles' journey into the sordid alleyways of debauchery only gets ever darker, threatening even his relationship with his wife. Nicolas Cage is the perfect protagonist, resourceful and persistent enough to penetrate the mystery but vulnerable enough to be shocked and forever changed by what he finds. 8mm is satisfyingly intense, challenging, and cautionary.

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