Sunday, May 1, 2022

8 MM

Movie Name:
Year of Release: 1999
Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald, Chris Bauer, Amy Morton, Myra Carter, Jack Betts
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
After the critical and commercial debacle of "Batman and Robin", director Joel Schumacher had a busy year in 1999, with two films premiering, again to mixed accolades. "8MM" premiered in February of 99 at the Berlin Film Festival and "Flawless", featuring Robert De Niro and Philip Seymour Hoffman had its debut in November of the same year. "8MM" saw the director working with screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker who at the time had made a name for himself writing David Fincher's "Seven" and Brett Leonard's "Hideaway" (an adaptation of Dean Koontz's novel). The film follows the story of Tom Welles, a private investigator whose cases have always been rather straightforward and not particularly challenging. He's called upon by the widower of a very rich man recently deceased, the frail Mrs. Carter, who explains to Tom that as she went through her late husband's items, particularly the ones hidden in a vault, she came into the possession of a film depicting what appears to be a mix of pornography and finally a young woman being killed. Mrs. Carter wants to know if the film is legitimate or some elaborate production. Tom takes the job with some reluctance, however as he starts trying to piece together who the victim is, he realizes more evidence may be in LA. Wanting to know more about the adult film world and its universe, and how potentially the young woman got dragged into it, he enlists the help of a young man by the name of Max California, who starts showing him around. The more Tom uncovers, the more he realizes that not all is what it seems, and as he and Max get closer to understanding what actually took place the riskier the situation gets for them as well.
"8MM" immediately brings to mind the work of Paul Schrader and William Friedkin. The first one because he dived into somewhat similar territory with the underrated "Hardcore", which premiered in 1979 and had a great central performance from George C. Scott. William Friedkin on the other hand, is the best person to tackle material such as this, since not only does he not shy away from shooting anti-heroes but he also populates his stories with a pessimism that touches upon everything. He also understands how the exposure of certain realities and universes have a profound impact on his characters, which was the case of the controversial "Cruising" or even the underrated "To Live and Die in LA", and to a lesser successful extent, "Jade". The main issue with "8MM" is not solely the fact that the film feels and looks very generic, a somewhat derivative and watered down version of the Nine Inch Nails & Mark Romanek's collaboration for the video "Closer", but also the third act of the film feels like a commercial concession to make the central hero both an avenger/vigilante, and also a father of the family who regains his heart and conscience. The material needed someone with more of a clearly defined point of view, since what ends up being illustrated are a series of vignettes and situations supposed to showcase the fringes of sexual behavior, all very topical and somewhat shallow, whereas the focus of the narrative, Tom Welles' exposure to this new universe, and what impact does that have in him, is never truly clearly demonstrated (at least until the third act of the film, and even then it's very glossy and cliché ridden). While the film is a detective story on finding out what happened to the woman in the snuff film, it should also have been an insightful journey into how much does this somewhat innocent and sheltered man is forever changed (or not) by what he witnesses and comes to realize. The film isn't particularly violent or particularly shocking - it is simply shallow in its observations and in its intentions. The cast is solid, with Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, the late James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Catherine Keener, Chris Bauer and Anthony Heald all creating strong characters. The cinematography from Robert Elswit is solid, as is the score from Mychael Danna. Another case of mismatched material, this film isn't a very memorable one.