Plot: What’s it about?
The widow of a recently deceased multimillionaire found a disturbing reel of footage after her husband’s death. On the tape is a young girl, being tortured, raped, and eventually killed, by a hooded man with a table full of torture devices. She is shocked, and wants to know if the girl really died, if in fact the tape was a fraud. She wants piece of mind, one way or the other. She is willing to spend whatever it takes, no matter it costs. Whoever takes this job can name their price. But, will they be able to look at things the same way after viewing this reel, and searching through the underground sex circuits, dealing with nefarious individuals, and whatever else it takes to find out if this girl is still alive? Who would take a job like this? Enter Tom Welles (Nicholas Cage), a private investigator, one of the best, if not the best. He comes highly recommended, and he agrees to view this footage. What he sees will never leave him, he is deeply disturbed by it, but thinks it may be a fraud. He agrees to take the case, and embarks on a journey he will never forget.
All Welles has is the reel of footage. No names, no addresses, no possible leads. He starts by finding out more about the type of film used, then uses resources at the Missing Persons Bureau to aid his efforts. He does get leads, and he also gets a “partner” Max California (Joaquin Phoenix). Max knows the porno underground like the back of his hand, sources, producers, stars, you name it. He knows where to get the good stuff, hard S&M, rape, but not even he knows where to go to get ahold of what Welles is looking for, snuff films. They search through endless videos, magazines, and every other medium for sexual materials, and find nothing resembling the footage Welles has. The deeper into all this Welles gets, the sicker he gets, the more questions he has, and the more obsessed he gets. Does he find the girl? Who made the tape? Fire up 8MM and find out…
8MM is basically about the “underground” sexual movement. You know, the weird stuff. I won’t go into detail, because we’re not a porno site for God’s sake, but you can imagine the things that happen in the places Welles and Max go. Welles searches for tapes of real rape or real murder, and comes up empty. A lot of people claim to have the goods, but end up having nothing but a poorly done imitation. There really is a market for the stuff, but no one makes it, and Welles seems to be the only guy with the real deal. 8MM contains mild nudity, and if you’re reading this review and you buy DVDs, I’m assuming you’ve seen a woman’s bare breasts. That’s about all 8MM shows in terms of blatant nudity, although male genitalia makes a few brief appearances in some scenes. There are some unusual attires worn in some scenes, but nothing much is shown, just a jiggle here and there. Nothing you won’t see in most sex-themed movies these days.
Now, about this “underground” sex movement 8MM deals with. I know that snuff films (films where people really die) and rape films are not only illegal and morally wrong, they are downright mythical. Maybe a few float around this ball of dust, but as a whole, snuff/rape films are nonexistent and impossible for most people to get ahold of. As far as these hard bondage and other types of activities shown in 8MM, nothing is shown in the movie that you would hear about Jerry Springer or read about in Playboy. How shocking is a leather mask these days? How shocking is a girl with a ball gag in her mouth getting spanked? Easy, neither is shocking these days. In fact, I’ll gamble that most people know someone who openly talks about doing such things. 8MM gets a bad rap for being sick and twisted, but unless you think you and most of the world are sick and twisted, only the murder and rape are shocking here. And what drama doesn’t involve one or the other?
One thing 8MM is however, is dark. It deals with the adult entertainment industry in a non flattering, but realistic light. We hear a film maker promising a young girl stardom if she gets down on her knees in front of him. 8MM deals bluntly with the industry of sex. So if you’re offended by breasts, penises, or someone getting off by receiving an enema, go to this site http://www.disney.com. Because every serious movie deals with sex and murder, it’s a fact of Hollywood. The things Welles see disturb him, but the deeper he gets, the more he wants to find this girl, and he will do whatever it takes to find her. The movie is shot in a lot of dimly lit closed locations. Most of the clothing is black or similar dark colors. Flashing lights, or the rare well lit exterior shot is the only brightness you can hope for. The movie would have looked like shit however, if it would have been colorful. It has enough small doses of color to keep the visuals varied, but the darkness sets a very cool mood for this flick.
This film is very well written, very few inconsistencies, and the way Welles goes about trying to find the girl are especially well done. Andrew Kevin Walker wrote 8MM, and it follows in similar footsteps as another Walker movie, Seven. Let me say this much, Seven, in my mind, has always been a movie for people who crave dark imagery, but are afraid of the dark. It was a kid’s movie, with a little blood mixed in. A no brainer, I thought it screamed “nerd film.” I know, all you Seven fans are gonna send me hate mail, but it’s true. Yes, Seven was an entertaining movie, but it no way shape or form was it disturbing. It tried, oh God, did it try, but it was never disturbing. But, luckily, 8MM goes in a different direction, and actually has some bizarre characters in it, but more on them later. Anyway, the story moves along nicely, and has few slow spots at all. 8MM is not disturbing either, but it at least gives us a better written movie, and a decent cast.
As for that wonderful cast, it is small, but exploding with talent. Nicholas Cage is front and canter as Tom Welles, and he rocks the house! Well, not exactly, but he is very good. This is not his best role by any means, but he brings life into Welles, and by the end of the movie, you are with him, you want him to finally solve this mystery. Playing Welles’ wife is Catherine Keener, and while her role is small, she does a great job. I have not seen much of her work, but I did see Out of Sight, and her performance here is way better than that role. Playing small time porno movie maker Eddie Poole is James Gandolfini. Gandolfini makes this role into something special. Poole might be small in speaking lines and screen time, but thanks to a brilliant and powerful performance, he stays in your mind after the film. Especially toward the end, the character deepens, and Gandolfini did a great job in making this small role shine in this film.
Joaquin Phoenix is also very good, playing Welles’ ticket into the sex “underground,” Max California. Man, does Phoenix ever look natural with dyed blue hair and piercings. He is totally believable as this character, and plays a great line between pervert and regular guy. He wants to see the stuff, but is grossed out when he does. Another great performance that solidifies this movie even more is the role of Dino Velvet. This is also my favorite character in the movie, not because of what he does or is, but because he is so interesting. He is played by Peter Stormare, who plays quite a few interesting characters. He was the Russian cosmonaut in Armageddon and played one of the nihilists in The Big Lebowski, among other roles. He makes Velvet seem so f’n weird it’s unnatural. I want to read a novel about nothing but Dino Velvet, seriously. The hooded man from the video, Machine, has a pivotal role, but no acting is done, so I ain’t gonna say the guy’s name here.
Time to break it down for you. Don’t be sent away by reports of hard core sex or anything like that. It’s like I said before, if you are scared or offended by naked breasts, keep away. If you can’t sleep without the lights on, this one is too dark for you. But, if you want a great thriller with a well written and acted story, then delve into a movie where the Se7en deadly sins are not just written on the wall, they’re acted out in front of your own eyes…
Video: How does it look?
Superb. Both a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and a full frame transfer are offered, so both ratio camps can be happy. This disc had to be perfect here, with all the darkness and shadows, and besides a few, very small slip ups, it is. The colors that do float in and out of the scenes are bursting with brightness, which makes for a visually stunning contrast. Black level is very nice, so bleeding between shadows and just good old darkness can be found.
Audio: How does it sound?
Also top of the line. The soundtrack to this is really good, featuring “Come To Daddy” by Aphex Twin. The music is loud, but to the extent that effects or dialogue is drowned out. While not exactly True Lies or anything, 8MM calls for the speakers to be used, with many effects, and is very dialogue driven. Not the best out there, but this audio gets the job done.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Well, you get a five and a half minute featurette, which is cool, but is so short it does not go in depth at all. It’s nice to have though, I just wish they were all thirty or sixty minutes, like most of Universal’s are. You also get to view cast/crew bios, production notes (which I could not find), the theatrical trailer, and a running commentary by Joel Shumacher. The commentary is so/so, nothing too earth shattering, and he’s not too much fun to listen to either. All in all, decent extras, but lacking when compared to other titles.