It's not Seven, and it will suffer from that comparison.Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) is a P.I. who basically just does his job. He does the things that P.I.'s do, then goes home to his wife and baby daughter. He basically goes through the motions, not because his job disinterests him, but because he's driven by it. He's good at it.
Welles is hired by Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) who found, along with the contents of her recently deceased husband's safe, what appears to be an eight millimeter film of a young girl being slashed to death. It's a snuff film. She questions the authenticity, then asks Welles to insure that the girl in the film is, in fact, not dead, and wasn't hurt.
What follows is Welles descent into a kind of hell.
He's drawn into the porn world, looking for the girl's family and the makers of the movie. He gets help from Max California (Joaquin Phoenix), an adult bookstore clerk who reads Capote under the dust jacket for an erotic novel. Max takes Welles deeper and deeper into the porn underground, all the while warning him of the dangers ("There are thinsg you're gonna see," he says, "that you can't un-see.") Welles is haunted by the girl, (he's now certain she's dead), and becomes even more driven, even to the point of alienating his family.
He shadows porn producer Eddie Poole (James Gandolfini), who leads him to hardcore director Dino Velvet (Fargo's Peter Storemare) and then to the enigma known as Machine (Chris Bauer), a brutal star of Velvet's films (and the man who apparently killed the girl) who is never seen without his bondage mask.
The confrontation is inevitable.
Well. What's good. Um. I liked Nic Cage here. I think the fact that Welles is just a normal guy driven to an extreme circumstance is what makes me like the character. Cage is a more than capable actor (Leaving Las Vegas) when he's not hamming it up in crap (Snake Eyes). Joaquin Phoenix also is quite good, and in fact steals every scene he's in.
The praise ends there.
I wasn't offended by the snuff film itself, or the characters that populate the porn world. I can't even really describe what it was that I didn't like about it. But I didn't like it. Maybe it was the fact that it just was so seedy of a story. Maybe it was the fact that Machine seemed like a poor carbon copy of John Doe from Seven (he's pure evil, and he's got no remorse, and he's got no real motive). I can't quite put it into words. I just didn't find the film terribly engrossing. It clips along for the first ninety minutes, but the remaining 35 (including the inevitable conclusion) just drags.Fans of Cage will like it. Everyone else will be turned off or indifferent.