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Review by Andrew Manning (1/99)

Release: 1999, Sony
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, Peter Stormare, Christopher Bauer
Director: Joel Schumacher
Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker
MPAA Rating: [R] sexuality, violence, language
Genre: Crime Thriller

You can't prepare for where the truth will take you...


Detective Tom Welles (Cage) is hired to discover the truth behind a pornographic film in which a murder is recorded. But once he views it, he can't shake the disturbing images on that reel of 8mm film. A dark, psychological thriller from the writer of Seven and the director of Falling Down.


Like that masterpiece of a psychological thriller Seven, 8MM is full of disturbing images and just bleeding with mood. Delving into dark, unspoken corners, this flick uses pornographic snuff films (a film in which one of the actors is literally killed) as its framework for human perversity. An old woman finds the movie in her dead husband's possessions, and she hires Cage to find out if the stuff is for real, because she can't believe he would have owned something so wicked. Just about all the main elements in this film are top notch.

After a few ho-hum films in City of Angels and Snake Eyes, Nicolas Cage is back in a movie worthy of his extraordinary acting talents. His detective Tom Welles grows increasingly obsessed and disturbed as he gets deeper and deeper into a situation he can't handle, and you feel the stress building moment by moment. Co-star Joaquin Phoenix, who acts as Welles' guide through the seedy, underground world of porn, is also very good and portrays just the right amount of shiftiness and expertise in his work.

Then there's director Joel Schumacher. This is the dude who helmed Batmans 3 and 4, when Warner Bros. decided to make the franchise "the gayest thing on earth" as one critic put it. It was such a lame turnover from Tim Burton's dark take on Gotham that I had almost forgotten that Schumacher had previously been responsible for directing some great films, not the least of which was Falling Down starring Michael Douglas. Like that film, 8MM is full of claustrophobia and tension. Quick flashes of disturbing images create a sordid impression of impending doom. What's great is how there's a strong feeling of unease even though there's no axe murderer or alien monster lurking in the shadows behind Cage. Cage's wrestling with his own sanity is far more intense.

Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, who also scripted Seven, is superbly adept at pulling no punches to create the ultimate crime thriller. In the Hollywood world where "disturbed" murderers are just a bunch of Hannibal Lecter wannabes with more bark than bite, Walker treats nothing as too taboo. The result is a movie with truly twisted characters (e.g. Kevin Spacey's psycho in Seven) and really f***ed up scenarios. That, my friends, is a true crime thriller. None of the generic "We found the body washed up in the river with the head cut off" crap. 8MM is really an unconventional thriller that actually tries to mess with your head, and that's some great stuff...


I know it adds to the overall twistedness of the situation, but I had a slight problem believing that Cage's Tom Welles could be so messed up after watching the film. Sure, it ain't no Disney flick, but you'd think that a hardened detective who has seen all sorts of things could hold it down a little easier than the "average mortal man." Also, 8MM gets a little preachy on occasion with its "porn is bad" message. Still, though, this was my favorite thriller since Seven, and I think people looking for a hard crime story with a twist will be pleased.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Perfection)

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