At the Movies with Alan Gekko: 8MM

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Thriller/Stars: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald, Myra Carter, Catherine Keener, Norman Reedus, Amy Morton, Torsten Voges, Luis Saguar, Chris Bauer/Runtime: 123 minutes

If there was ever a part of reviewing movies that I have always found to be a secret pleasure of mine it would be whenever I get the opportunity to go against the majority opinion on a distinct slice of cinematic pie, but especially when I think the movie is a lot better than the majority of film reviewers seem to give it credit for. Case in point the movie I am reviewing today 1999’s 8MM from iconic film helmer Joel Schumacher and starring just as iconic actor Nicolas Cage in the lead role. Indeed here is a slice of cinematic pie that, by and large, was highly slammed by the movie reviewing community when it first came out and is still to this day currently sitting at a 23% on Rotten Tomatoes with the audience score not faring that much better. Yet I would like to argue that this rating is way too low for this truly distinct slice of cinematic pie. Yes I understand that this movie is an incredibly bleak and dark film, and yes it goes to some places that a lot of mainstream Hollywood movies made either before or since wouldn’t even come close to going or even think of going for that matter. However if you can past the unrelentingly bleak atmosphere and the overwhelming amount of depravity on screen then what you are left with is more than just a highly underrated gem in the world of movie magic. Rather, 8MM is also a truly unnerving and dark mystery that comes equipped with powerful work behind the camera and a collection of truly potent and powerful performances leading the way in front of the camera thus giving audiences a slice of cinematic pie that I promise if you have the grit and/or resolve to make it through you most assuredly will not forget.

The plot is as follows: 8MM gets its riveting yarn underway as we are introduced to a man by the name of Tom Welles. A genuinely decent man, who in addition to being a loving husband and father, is one whose career choice happens to be a very dedicated and very good private investigator albeit the type who works the kind of crowd that may require more discretion than most, but who also pay a lot better than most as well. Yet for as skilled as Welles may be, we soon see that his skill and talent for discretion are about to be put to a serious test. This is because, following a particularly run of a mill assignment on behalf of a Senator, Welles is contacted by the recently widowed spouse of a famous industrialist and her attorney. It seems that whilst going through her late husband’s effects, the woman discovered an intriguing 8MM (hence the title of the movie) film that seems to show a young woman in a sexual situation that horrifically turns bloody and violent and seemingly ends with the young woman’s demise. In short: it appears that what has been found here is an alleged snuff film and, concerned for both the young woman in the video as well as her late husband’s legacy/reputation, we see that the man’s widow is hiring our intrepid hero to discover who made the film, verify whether or not it is authentic, and also discover what happened to the girl who starred in it. Thus we see that our hero decides to take the case, but in doing so discovers that he is about to embark into a dark and perilous world. One that, despite lying just under the surface of our own, is the kind where not only can your worst nightmare be vividly brought to life with the right amount of cash, but there is frighteningly no limit to the depravity and sleaziness that people in this world are capable of. Thus what started out as yet another routine assignment has turned into a descent into hell and suffice it to say that by the end of it our decent and upstanding hero will never be the same again….

Now right off the bat I must say that props must be given to the work done on this distinct slice of cinematic pie by it’s rather iconic helmer Joel Schumacher (as in the Joel Schumacher who gave us gems as The Lost Boys and Falling Down, but also such complete and utter catastrophes as Batman & Robin). Fortunately, this is one film that is more in the vein of Falling Down rather than the infamous bomb that was the 4th Batman film. Indeed Schumacher’s work at this film’s helm, much like with Falling Down, is direction is deftly done to say nothing of being both even keeled and confident in the moments where it counts as well as appropriately grimly stylized to match the overall tone of the film. Not to mention, but Schumacher does a wonderful job at showing us just enough violence and sex that it is able to be as necessarily slimy and grotesque as the narrative demands without ever feeling like the movie is running the risk of going overboard with it. Yet in addition to the work done by Schumacher in setting the tone, I also feel that the overall tone let alone vibe is also wonderfully realized by the work done here by the cinematography department which utilizes a seemingly in equal measure fluorescent and gloomy assortment of colors it utilizes in painting this truly sleazy world for us, the top-flight production design work, and a musical accompaniment that has a hint of a Middle Eastern vibe to it, but is mostly concerned with being as horrific and enveloping as it possibly can and in that respect it definitely succeeds. Thus I think it’s quite safe to point out to you that what the critical community at large missed with this slice of cinematic pie is that this is supposed to be a quite bleak and dire movie given the content matter contained within and in that respect the work done behind the camera is more than able to do their part in bringing this grim narrative so vividly to life.

Now as good and as skilled as the work done behind the camera by Joel Schumacher and the rest of the creative team is, I only think their contributions (and by default the rest of this slice of cinematic pie) would only work half as well as they ultimately do if this slice of cinematic pie did not have a truly talented cast leading the way in front of the camera and that was courageous enough to take us to the dark and bleak places that this cinematic voyage ultimately takes us to. Fortunately that’s not a problem by any stretch of the imagination for this film’s cast as they all manage to give fairly riveting performances. This starts with lead actor Nicolas Cage and he is simply terrific in this. Indeed Cage not only excels in the moments where his character is in full-blown private eye mode, but as the movie goes on and we see this guy embark further and further into this primordial cesspool and start to really become very disturbed by what he discovers, Cage is allowed to unleash that trademark over-the-top style he is known for executing so memorably. Yet although a lot of critics took issue with Cage going over the top near the end, I honestly felt it was appropriate. This is because seeing as he had literally been pushed to the brink of madness by all that he has seen and witnessed by the end of the movie, he is now finding himself having to do things he never could have seen himself doing ever in his entire life and Cage sells it in a way that is truly magnetic and gripping in equal measure. I also love the work done in this by Joaquin Phoenix in the pivotal supporting role of Max California. Indeed he may only have 30-40 minutes of screen time, but Phoenix does a terrific job of making this reluctant guide for Cage’s character to the hell he wishes to immerse himself both engaging and yet also relatable due to a surprising wrinkle or 2 surrounding his character. I also love the work done in this by co-stars James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, and Chris Bauer as some of the other people Cage encounters in this twisted voyage. No they’re nowhere near as helpful or decent as Phoenix’s Max California, but the roles played by this trinity of men do a phenomenal job of really showing just how sleazy, slimy, and just plain sick the world Cage is investigating really truly is. Now I like the work done in this by Catherine Keener as Wells’ loving and caring wife, but I honestly felt this was a role that was fairly run of the mill in regards to its arc within the overall narrative thus making the wonderful work done in this done by Keener feel a little bit more sidelined than it ought to have been.

All in all is 8MM the best slice of cinematic pie in all of existence? Nope, Nada, Negatory. Kudos to you for thinking that however you might also want to be slightly concerned by that due to the subject material on display in this film. By the same token however is this a slice of cinematic pie that is worth even close to the aforementioned 23% score on Rotten Tomatoes that it currently possesses? Again Nope, Nada, and most assuredly Negatory to that. Indeed this movie might be bleak, it might be dark, and it might go to some truly visceral places and deal with a man going on a trip to a hell that most of us could never imagine let alone comprehend, but a bad movie alone that does not make. Suffice it to say then that 8MM is, for those who have the stomach and/or fortitude to handle this distinct material, one brutal and visceral voyage that, with the aid of an iconic film helmer and an equally as talented cast led by a riveting turn from Nicolas Cage I promise you won’t ever forget as much as you may find yourself desperately wanting to. On a scale of 1-5 I give 8MM a solid 3.5 out of 5.