by Eugene Novikov
Director Joel Schumacher must be a very hated man. He is, after all, responsible for single-handedly destroying the whole "Batman" franchise with the embarrassing "Batman & Robin." Is it fair, for Batman fans everywhere, to say that Schumacher redeems himself with "8MM"? Well, perhaps not. And I suppose there is no form of redemption for making an awful movie; that'll stay with you forever. But in its own right, the new Nicolas Cage thriller "8MM" is an excellent film.The ordinary-man-suddenly-thrown-into-oblivion story has been told over and over, both by excellent films (Enemy of the State, A Simple Plan, The Man Who Knew Too Much) and not-so-excellent ones (In Dreams, etc.). And, I suppose, 8MM is another of these films, but instead of it being the whole movie, it uses that general storyline framework as a set-up for bigger and better things. Cage plays Private Detective Tom Welles, a loving husband dedicated to his profession, who spends most of his time following around various adulterers and other such scum. So, it is rather surprising to him when he is called in by the wife of a recently deceased millionare. It seems that she has found a film in her husband's safe that seems to depict a girl being brutally raped and murdered. Welles' mission, which he chooses to accept, is to find out whether that girl was really killed in that film.
"A complex achievement."
He tackles the problem head-on by going to Cleveland and by visiting a part of that city known as an adult entertainment heaven. He enlists the help of an intelligent but destitute porn store clerk, Max, to acquaint him with the dark world of hard-core pornography. He begins to dig deep, and finds out that "snuff" films, a sort of "urban legend" in the porn world really do exist. For the uninitiated (God, I hope there are many of you out there), a "snuff" film is an unproffesionally made porno where one of the stars is beaten and killed.
From a technical perspective, this is a fine achievement. Filmed in bleak, dark tones, 8MM is a beautifully moody picture, even if it doesn't present any original concept in cinematography (and it didn't have to, either). The movie's general style resembles that of last year's A Perfect Murder in camerawork, lighting and tone.
As Welles submerges himself in this insane world, he begins to wrestle with murderous instincts. But he is not a killer. At one point, in a very powerful scene, he has to call a family member of one of the victims to literally talk him into killing one of the villains.
Schumacher tries to touch on many philosophical concepts in 8MM. Some work, some don't, but his movie is really notable for many very suspenseful scenes, compelling action, and for building up a steady rhythm that really draws the audience in. Cage gives a none-too-subtle but still riveting performance as Welles, but his performance gets is quite overstated if you watch closely.
8MM is quite graphic in terms of depiction of these "snuff" films, but it manages not to stray into NC-17 category. Still, I would guess that many people would find much of this film disturbing, and some might even think of it as repulsive. But try and look beyond the violence. Welles' reaction to everything he sees is quite real. The villains' motives as depicted here are rather thought-provoking. When you really look, 8MM is quite a restrained, even timid picture when you think about what it could have been. Had it been an "exploitation" movie, much like the porn that it's about, my reaction would have certainly been different.
Nor is this a preachy "porn is bad" movie, as a matter of fact 8MM does not seem to be too concerned with porn. It seems to be trying to get a message through our heads that has to do with criminality in general. The notion that all criminals have a troubled past is what Schumacher seems to be trying to disprove ("I do these things because I want to. Because I like them"). Like last year's Enemy of the State, 8MM uses action and violence for something other than simply displaying action and violence.
This is Schumacher's breakthrough film, his first good one since Falling Down. It's a comlpex achievement; exciting, sad and profound at the same time. It's also one of the year's first pleasant surprises.(Review reprinted from FilmBlather.com)
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originally posted: 03/04/07 07:01:44