8mm | joel schumacher | andrew kevin walker | nicolas cage | joaquin phoenix | james gandolfini | mystery | thriller | germany | united states | torture | peter stormare | anthony heald | chris bauer | catherine keener | myra carter | amy morton | jenny powell
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix and James Gandolfini
This was a film that I remember when it came out. I would have been 12 years old and I believe that my father actually saw this. He didn’t keep a lot away from my sister and me, but I do know that this one he didn’t want us to see. It took me quite awhile to finally check this out and thanks to a podcast series of shows, I finally did. The synopsis is a private investigator is hired to discover if a “snuff film” is authentic or not.
We start this film seeing Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) going to Miami. We get a few shots of him as he goes to a local place and then we see him at another airport, in a less luxurious place. Through this we learn that he is a private investigator hired by a senator to see what her son was doing. He is known to be really good and for his discretion.
At home, he’s married to Amy (Catherine) and they have a daughter together. Tom has supposed to given up smoking, but it seems that when he works, he pretty much chains smokes and this bothers Amy.
A call comes in and it leads Tom to meet Daniel Longdale (Anthony Heald). He’s the attorney for a powerful family where the husband recently passed away. His wife is Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter). They opened the late husband’s safe where they found some normal documents and an 8mm film. Tom watches it and it bothers him as it is a snuff film. Mrs. Christian can’t live with the thought that it could be real and they can’t go to the police with the scandal that would ensue. She hires Tom to see if he can figure it out.
Tom going away puts a strain on his marriage with his wife. She knows this is his job and he convinces her that working for these powerful clients will pay off in the long run where he won’t have to go away. There’s not a lot to go on with the film he is given, but the more he watches it, the more clues he finds. This leads him down a dark path of S&M, pornography and what really happened to Mary Ann Mathews (Jenny Powell).
Upon watching this, I can see why my father didn’t really want to me to watch this at the age I was when it came out. The film isn’t overly graphic. There are some things here that back then I don’t think I would have understood and the film has a lot of nuisance where it took me until being an adult to fully comprehend.
With that out of the way, I really like the mystery of this film. I think my favorite aspect is that there are a lot of moments very early that Tom tries to get out of this job, but Mrs. Christian needs this peace of mind so she asks him to continue. Going from that though, once he puts a name to the face of the possible victim he can’t let go and I think this actually works really well. It makes to sense to establish Tom’s back-story, because in doing so we see what he is working for, but I think he’s projecting his daughter on to this young woman who is missing. There’s no one advocating for her aside from her mother, Janet (Amy Morton), who is a broken woman in her own right. There’s an aspect here though that the deeper he investigates, the more he loses his humanity. It’s almost like to solve this; he has to become an animal like the animals that did it.
I also really like how quickly Tom can think on his feet. I’m sure that he is rehearsing a lot of this before he meets with people, but he definitely thinks fast and lies without even thinking. I do feel that is a bit problematic to his good character here though. I like my hero to be a little bad though, as it is more akin to humanity. The lies that he tells to get information makes it quite interesting as a lot of these people don’t really follow-up with what he’s claiming.
If there’s anything that I had an issue with in this film is the length. The film clocks in just over 2 hours. I should establish first, it never gets boring. It definitely builds tension and I could feel it in my chest with every new thing that he discovers. I just think that there is a lull early on when he has very little to go on. Once he gets to Mary Ann’s house, from there he just keeps finding things. I really love the climax and the decisions that are made. There’s an abominable human nicknamed Machine (Chris Bauer) and I absolutely loved his responses to Tom’s questions. I wanted a bit more from the ending, but it definitely is fine for what he dealt with in the film. From the changes to the character, I wanted it to be bleaker.
That moves me next to the acting, which I thought was really good. There’s quite a cast here and I didn’t realize that. Cage is really good. There was a couple times where we got him over the top. It is really only early on that I thought it didn’t fit. I just really like how he plays it and it worked for me. Joaquin Phoenix appears a porn shop worker, Max California. I thought he was great. It is interesting that he shows what happens to people in life when their dreams fail and I saw part of myself there. He is smarter than what he’s doing, but he’s stuck. We also have James Gandolfini as Eddie Poole and Peter Stormare as Dino Velvet. Both are sleazy guys in the industry and both were solid in their roles. Heald plays that arrogant role so well and he does it here. I really liked Keener as she brings humanity to Tom as he is losing it. Bauer, Morton and Powell were all solid as well, rounding out the film for what was needed.
Next would be the effects, which surprising there’s not a whole lot. I thought the look of the 8mm movie was good. We do get some blood, which I thought was fine. The rest of it I would say was practical. I’m always on board with that so no issues in this aspect. I do think the film was shot very well, which makes sense since Joel Schumacher was the director.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack. I thought it fit for what they needed. We do get a lot of instrumental industrial music which does fit the motif of the bondage lifestyle we’re seeing. The rest of the score fit the scenes and late in the film it helped to amp up the tension as well.
Now with that said, this is definitely an interesting film that I’m glad I can knock off my list of ones I hadn’t seen. It is interesting to see Tom as he tries to advocate for this missing girl while he loses his own humanity in order to solve this. It raises the tension with each new clue he finds and discovers the dark truth of it all. I did want a bit more from the ending, but it doesn’t ruin the film. Acting really helped to bring this to film, as there’s quite a solid cast here. There’s not a lot in the way of effects, but what we got was practical and looked good. The soundtrack fit for what was needed, especially ramping up the tension later in the film. Despite its dark subject matter, I think this is a solid mystery for fans and non-fans of the genre alike. This was a good film in my opinion.
My Rating: 8.5 out of 10