rated - TEPID
Here's a little film which the critics seemed to hate, and yet I found
it fascinating, and compelling. In fact its images and ideas have
stayed in my mind, vivid and strong. Certainly it has some major
problems - and its director seems peculiarly badly suited to the
intelligent material of the screenplay. But on the other hand, who
better to explore the dark, down and dirty world of the porno film than
Joel Schumacher, who directed Batman and Robin (1997), Batman Forever
(1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Falling Down (1993), Flatliners (1990)
and The Lost Boys (1987) among many others? And Schumacher certainly
does have a vivid visual way about him: he came to direction through
costume and production design.
In 8MM our hero is Tom Welles (Nicholas Cage). He seems a dependable
and solid family man, who loves his wife and his child and lives in the
suburbs. He pursues a reasonable living by engaging in surveillance,
which he tells us, he "thought... was the future". Of course, he's a
private dick and this is a film noir. As in most films noir, our hero,
Tom is a flawed man. He lies (badly) to his wife about his smoking,
about how long he'll be away on business. She nags him constantly, yet
he grimly phones her nearly every night telling her that he loves her.
He seems genuinely to love his baby, however, and that is his saving
grace. He also steals evidence, presents false credentials to whomever
suits him and lies about who he is and who his clients are.
Tom is given a case which could make his career, but it takes him into
the sleazy world of the sex industry and porno film-making (can this be
the same porno industry that was so rosily recalled by Paul Anderson in
Boogie Nights ?). Director Joel Schumacher doesn't take long to hit us
over the head with his theme. "Dance with the devil and the devil don't
change. The devil changes you" says Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Max
California, a porn-shop clerk who himself has been changed from an
aspiring musician into a vendor of sexual pleasure.
And Tom does change. Or does he? In a blood-soaked climax,Tom takes a
terrible revenge. Is he justified? These are the questions the
But Schumacher doesn't have time for such questions. In an interview
published in Premiere magazine ('Voyeurs, Guns and Money', March 1999,
p 65) Schumacher considers the fact that many of his films (Falling
Down, A Time to Kill & 8MM, for example) have a streak of
vigilantism running through them "I'd love to take the law into my own
hands" he says . And later "What's wrong with a story about someone
who, through his own repulsion and indignation over this, takes action?
Why not? Because it might make people uncomfortable? Well, so what?"
Scriptwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (The Game , 1997, uncredited, Se7en
1995) has taken great pains to show us that Tom was already on a
slippery slope. He was already a liar, a cheat, and adept in the skills
of deception and spying. He is a professional voyeur, as a matter of
fact. Was he particularly susceptible to evil, or did his exposure to
evil breed more evil? Schumacher ignores these questions and instead
presents us with the rather more pedestrian spectacle of "righteous
But Walker and Stomacher do make one stunning statement about their
view of the nature of evil, and they put it in the mouth of one of the
bizarre character actors in the bad bad films. Machine, a legendary
porno actor who wields a mean knife by way of film narrative says, in
his death throes: "There's no mystery. The things I do I do them
because I want to - I like to. Mommy didn't beat me. Daddy didn't rape
me." Now that's frightening!
This is a stylish, intriguing and compelling movie which could so
easily have been stylish, intriguing, compelling and intelligent. This
lack of intelligence is why I'm giving it a lower rating than this
review would seem to justify. I gather that there has been some
falling-out between the director and the scriptwriter, and that Cage
wanted an optimistic ending. This could explain some of the weaknesses
, particularly in the second half of the movie. We also have an
over-the-top performance by Peter Stormare (the silent killer in Fargo)
as Dino Velvet, a porno "auteur," and a few too many clichés
taking the place of reality in the porno industry (I'm only guessing
here, but I don't imagine that in real porno films the crossbow
features too regularly).
Still, Cage's performance is generally very good - he makes you
uncomfortable, and Schumacher generally captures the atmosphere of
sleaze and evil pretty well, aided by some striking Arabic music. In
fact, the film's original music was so striking, I made a mental note
of the composer's name, Mychael Danna, and looked himm up afterwards.
Turns out he's responsible for the music of two of my favourite films
of 1997: The Ice Storm (Ang Lee) and The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan).
He also composed the music for Egoyan's films The Adjuster (1991) and
So don't write this film off. It continues to fascinate me. I haven't
even mentioned the question of how much of a snuff movie viewers ofthis
film should see, or to ask whether there are some subjects that films
can't show. It is interesting to muse on these questions, and it is
also interesting to speculate about what this film might have been like
had it been directed by someone with both a darkly stylish imagination
and a great intelligence, say, Stanley Kubrick, or even Bob Fosse.