Cage plays Tom Welles, a detective hired by wealthy widow Mrs.
Christian (Myra Carter) to uncover the origins of an eight millimeter
film she discovered in her husband's vault after his death. The
amateurish "snuff" film, directed by a pornographer
for someone's perverse thrills, shows a scantily-clad teenage
girl being butchered by a man in a black mask. Understandably,
the widow wants to know how her husband came to possess this vile
footage, and whether the girl was really killed on film or if
it was faked. She is ready to pay Welles whatever he needs to
investigate this, and that is why he takes such an unpleasant
assignment: He needs the money.
Welles tells his wife (Catherine Keener), who is uncomfortable
with his frequent job-related absences, that he'll be finished
in a few weeks, but the more he uncovers about the film and the
porn industry, the more complex the case becomes. He finds the
girl's picture among Cleveland's missing persons files, and tracks
down her mother (Amy Morton). He finds an L.A. porn shop owner
(Joaquin Phoenix) who identifies the filmmakers. And before he
is finished, he discovers much more than he ever wanted to know.
8MM sports three separate bad guys: There are the film's
director, Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare), the distributor, Eddie
Poole (James Gandolfini), and the onscreen, masked murderer known
only as "Machine" (Christopher Bauer). This triumvirate
makes one highly unpleasant villain, but none of their performances
is outstanding by itself. Added evil, on a lesser scale, is provided
by Anthony Heald as the unscrupulous attorney who arranged the
deal with the wealthy Mr. Christian.
This film was written by Andrew Kevin Walker, author of Seven.
It is chilling in a Silence of the Lambs sort of way, but
none of the villains is on a level with Anthony Hopkins, and Cage,
here anyway, is nowhere near Jodie Foster. For a protagonist,
his Welles is not an especially likable character; he is irresponsible
with his family and unmoved by the creepy situation. Though he
makes a few unconvincing gestures toward being so moved, he doesn't
really get going emotionally until the final reel. Phoenix, whose
performance in Return To Paradise
still haunts me, is nearly that good here as the frustrated musician
forced to turn porn vender. His character, like the girl in the
film, is one of the millions of "good kids" who sell
their souls to pay the rent.
8MM is a film that presents a clear view of something no one wants to see. It makes us crouch in the shadows and watch as the tears of a young girl are treated like cash crops, put on the market for the pleasure of others. It is good work by Schumacher, but hard to watch nonetheless. ****
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