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(1999) (Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: A private detective, hired to investigate the validity of a "snuff" film and to determine if the victim portrayed within it was truly killed, uncovers a disturbing underground world of violent pornography that soon begins to affect his moral underpinnings.
Tom Welles (NICOLAS CAGE) is a private detective who takes high profile cases to better provide for his wife, Amy (CATHERINE KEENER) and their infant daughter. Usually summoned to investigate allegations of affairs, Tom is hired by a wealthy widow, Mrs. Christian (MYRA CARTER), and her high paid attorney, Longdale (ANTHONY HEALD), after their discovery of a short, but disturbing piece of film.

It seems that Christian's late husband had hidden away a "snuff" film -- a sadistically pornographic short where a young woman (JENNY POWELL) is apparently killed by a masked man -- and the elderly woman wants to know whether it's real or not, but doesn't want to involve the police so as to protect her husband's reputation.

With nothing more than the images on the film to start his investigation, Tom takes the case. Eventually locating the girl's mother, Janet Mathews (AMY MORTON), Tom's discoveries lead him to Hollywood, where he meets and then hires an adult bookstore clerk, Max California (JOAQUIN PHOENIX), to introduce him to the underground world of sadistic porn.

As his investigation leads him ever deeper into this sordid world, Tom eventually encounters several shady figures, including filmmakers Eddie Poole (JAMES GANDOLFINI) and Dino Velvet (PETER STORMARE), along with the film's masked man, known only as "Machine" (CHRIS BAUER), all of whom lead him closer to solving the case and toward the brink of his own sanity.

Younger kids won't, but older teens just might, especially if they're fans of Cage ("Con Air") or director Schumacher ("Batman Forever").
For strong perverse sexuality and violence, and for strong language.
  • NICOLAS CAGE plays a chain-smoking family man whose private investigation work eventually leads him into a sordid world that soon affects his personality, causing him to curse and become extremely violent toward those responsible for the "snuff" film.
  • JOAQUIN PHOENIX plays an adult bookstore clerk who simply sells the materials in his store without questioning what his customers are buying. Hired by Tom to help solve the case, Max introduces him to an underground world of violent pornography (and smokes and cusses).
  • JAMES GANDOLFINI plays an adult filmmaker who curses a lot, while PETER STORMARE plays a man who specializes in sadistically violent pornography.
  • CATHERINE KEENER plays Tom's loving wife who becomes increasingly troubled by her husband's long absences and strange behavior.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    One summer, between college semesters and during the early '80's, I had a brief stint at a local video store. While it was never surprising that the recently released blockbusters were always rented, one of the cult favorites was a film titled, "Faces of Death."

    A collection of reportedly real glimpses of people being killed in various fashions, our sole copy of that tape was a hot commodity. One question always lingered among its shocked viewers, however, and that was whether the depicted events were actually real, or simply staged to look as shockingly realistic as possible.

    Long before the FOX TV network renewed interest in "realistic" violence in shows such as "When Good Pets Go Bad" and "Most Dangerous Police Chases IV" (or similarly titled, sensationalistic programming), the "Faces of Death" tape understandably stirred up a lot of controversy. It's unflinching look at death also caused others to question the validity of the possibly mythical, but certainly far more extreme, so-called "snuff" films where a person's death was presumably recorded on film for the later "pleasure" of its viewers.

    While different "experts" will continue to debate about whether such films really exist, it's an intriguing question, and writer Andrew Kevin Walker and director Joel Schumacher have cleverly used that as a catalyst in their latest film, "8MM," a solidly constructed, but not spectacular suspense/thriller.

    Despite the presence of star Nicolas Cage, however, the sexually charged, violent exploits and overall thematic issues included herein may prove to be too much for many viewers, thus ensuring this dark and disturbing release a limited chance of success at the box office.

    Borrowing elements from Walker's previous script, "Seven," Schumacher's earlier film, "Falling Down," the brilliant "The Silence of the Lambs" and the subversively creepy aura found in many of Brian De Palma's "Hitchcockian" homages/ripoffs, this film unfolds as a shortchanged character study implying what exposure to such material can do to an otherwise normal person.

    As such, it's about as polar opposite a picture as one could get from Schumacher's previous and critically lambasted release, "Batman and Robin," and instead is very reminiscent of "Seven" in its portrayal of a disturbingly dark, foreboding and grimy world.

    In that sense and as accompanied by Mychael Danna's ("The Sweet Hereafter") haunting (but occasionally odd and Middle Eastern influenced) score and cinematographer Robert Elswit's ("Boogie Nights") perfect lensing, the picture succeeds. Yet with the protagonist's descent into ever deepening madness and the overall material being rather unsettling, the film is hard to "enjoy," even on its own level.

    Thematically similar to Schumacher's "Falling Down" (where Michael Douglas becomes progressively unhinged), yet differing in tone and lacking the cathartic enjoyment that came from watching that character take the law into his own hands, this film follows a relatively satisfying investigatory plot. Even so, the protagonist's progression into darker, inner trappings, however, won't come as much of a surprise since it's telegraphed through his "sidekick's" repeated bits of dialogue that warn of such an occurrence.

    What's most surprising -- actually, disappointing is the more proper term -- is that Schumacher goes for the visibly violent material in the picture's last third after "teasing" the audience with what occurs in the "snuff" film. While that's probably due to a combination of the director's more flamboyant, no holds barred tendencies, as well as some studio honcho's need for some on-screen mayhem, the bits that make the audience rely on their imagination to the fill in the blanks are much more disturbing than the run-of-the-mill beatings that are now so commonly found in this genre.

    It doesn't take any imagination, however, to see that Nicolas Cage ("City of Angels," "Face/Off") is correctly cast in the role. Like a handful of other talented actors, he can easily pull off playing the bad guy character as well as the good, and this film gives him the opportunity to move along a sliding scale between the two. While it's not a great performance, Cage does have the seemingly effortless knack of allowing the audience to buy into whatever his character's doing.

    Joaquin Phoenix ("Clay Pigeons," "To Die For") is good as Cage's sometime comedic sidekick, while James Gandolfini ("Fallen") and Peter Stormare ("Fargo") are appropriately and believably menacing and sleazy in their respective parts. The female roles are rather limited, however, with Catherine Keener ("Your Friends and Neighbors") literally left holding the phone for most of her scenes, although Amy Morton (who had a brief appearance in "Falling Down") does a decent job as the distraught mother of the missing young woman.

    A bit more disturbing in concept than realized execution, the film is solidly constructed and features some decent performances, but doesn't have that extra spark to make it a classic. Although it correctly makes you feel as if you've just walked through a slimy and gross back alley that's crawling with the scum of the Earth, there's not enough present to make that trip worth highly recommending. As such, "8MM" can be appreciated on its own level, but it isn't disturbing, scary or "entertaining" enough to earn a rating higher than 5 out of 10.

    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Profanity is extreme with more than 70 "f" words being used, along with a wide variety of other words, phrases and religious words/phrases. Violence is extreme with several people being killed (with bloody results), and sex/nudity is also extreme with many glimpses of nude women, some briefly seen or implied sexual activity, and the whole issue of violent and sadistic pornography.

    Because of that and the actions the protagonist later takes, bad attitudes are also extreme, and many scenes may be rather (or perhaps extremely) suspenseful to some/many viewers. The protagonist also smokes throughout most of the film, while other smoking and drinking also occurs.

    While it's questionable how many kids will want to see this film, due to its nature and the subject matter presented, we strongly suggest that you take a closer look at the content should you or someone in your home be considering watching this film.

  • Mrs. Mathews tells Tom that she needs a drink, and offers one to him, but he declines. Later, however, he accepts one from her and both drink.
  • People drink in a house that Tom and Max visit.
  • Tom and Max drink beer.
  • A person on the street drinks from a brown paper bag.
  • Tom drinks while watching a tape.
  • Velvet drinks while meeting Tom and Max.
  • Max drinks a beer.
  • We see fleeting bloody images on the "snuff" film as Tom watches it.
  • We see more fleeting images of a bloody victim in another "snuff" film, including one that's very bloody.
  • Tom's ear and the side of his head are a little bloody, while Max's face is rather bloody after both have been caught.
  • A man who's just been killed is very bloody.
  • Tom's face is bloody after being beaten.
  • After an arrow impales a man's chest, we see blood there.
  • A man is shot in the neck and the results are extremely bloody.
  • A man's gut is a bit bloody after he's been stabbed there.
  • A man has blood splattered across his face after pummeling another man to death.
  • Obviously, those involved in the sexually violent "snuff" films have extreme cases of both.
  • There's mention of a woman's unseen son or son-in-law having had an affair.
  • Tom lies to his wife about not smoking.
  • The missing girl's former boyfriend is in jail for breaking and entering, and has a non-caring attitude toward her.
  • We see an "underground" porno film dealer who's displaying child pornography films (we don't see any of them).
  • Tom breaks into Eddie's office and taps his phone.
  • Tom eventually loses control and takes the law into his own hands.
  • Obviously, those involved in the sexually violent "snuff" films have extreme cases of both.
  • There's mention of a woman's unseen son or son-in-law having had an affair.
  • Tom lies to his wife about not smoking.
  • The missing girl's former boyfriend is in jail for breaking and entering, and has a non-caring attitude toward her.
  • We see an "underground" porno film dealer who's displaying child pornography films (we don't see any of them).
  • Tom breaks into Eddie's office and taps his phone.
  • Tom eventually loses control and takes the law into his own hands.
  • Handguns/Crossbow/Knives/Other sharp objects: Used to threaten, wound, or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "I don't give a f*ck," "Hand job" (sexual), "D*ckhead," "Sh*thole," "Bitch," "Go to hell," "Pissed off," "Jerk off," "Jack ass," "Blow me," "Idiot," "Shut up," "Faggot" and "Pansy bitch."
  • The film may inspire some older kids to seek out the existence of such "snuff" films (or otherwise similar porno tapes).
  • Max has a pierced eyebrow and various tatoos on his body.
  • Some music suddenly starts in a very quiet scene.
  • A man suddenly jumps out and attacks another man.
  • An extreme amount of suspenseful music (sometimes action-oriented and at others, somewhat ominous) plays during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 73 "f" words (2 used with "mother," 2 used sexually), 15 "s" words, 4 slang terms for male genitals ("d*ck," "pr*ck" and "c*ck"), 4 slang terms for female genitals ("p*ssy"), 2 slang terms for breasts ("t*ts"), 5 hells, 3 asses (1 used with"hole"), 1 S.O.B., 1 damn, and 3 uses of "G-damn," 2 of "Oh God" and 1 use each of "Jesus," "God" and "Swear to Christ" as exclamations.
  • We see a brief glimpse of a woman in a skimpy bikini on a Miami street.
  • Hearing sexual sounds, we see Tom and his wife having sex in bed, under the covers and in the darkness of their room (with a little movement, but no nudity).
  • The missing girl's former boyfriend tells Tom that she may be "working in a t*tty bar...but if you ask me, her t*ts weren't all that great." He then adds that "just because I was f*cking her in high school" doesn't mean he was going to follow her.
  • Tom passes by the exterior of many adult bookstores and peepshows while walking/riding down the street, which includes the sight of a neon sign of a nude woman.
  • We see a topless dancer in a strip club who's also wearing a skimpy bikini bottom.
  • We see glimpses of the covers of many porno magazines (from somewhat of a distance) that do show some nudity.
  • Upon first meeting Tom who's buying many porno magazines for his research, Max (who's wearing a T-shirt with a drawing of a bare-breasted woman) asks him, "Can I interest you in a battery powered vagina?" (We don't see it). We then see some bare breasts in magazines as well as sexually related ads.
  • Max tells an unseen customer that his adult bookstore is like a gas station in that "you pay before you pump."
  • We see a bare-breasted woman in a film dressed up like a nurse, getting ready to insert something up another person's anus (we see their bare butt), but the shot cuts away before the insertion takes place (although we later see that it's been inserted as seen from a side angle). As this film plays, we see what looks like a woman giving oral sex to a man, as well as what seems like people masturbating while watching the film (nothing can clearly be seen, however).
  • We see people dressed up in S&M garb, including a man who's wearing a leather thong that barely contains his genitals.
  • Tom and Max watch several films where naked or scantily clad women appear to be raped and/or killed (including a man wielding and then swinging a large sword), although they later determine that the actions are faked.
  • We see women's bare breasts and butts in several posters/photos in Eddie's office, including one later seen from a distance that appears to show a nude woman with her legs spread.
  • As Tom spies on Eddie's office from across the street, he sees a young, scantily clad woman kneel down at Eddie's crotch as the adult filmmaker undoes his pants (and then closes the shades, however, before we see anything else).
  • Tom later spies on Eddie and sees a nude woman (breasts and butt) as well as a nude man (and what looks like a brief glimpse of full frontal nudity).
  • In another S&M film we see a woman's bare breasts and butt, and we see all sorts of S&M paraphernalia in Dino's office.
  • Tom asks a man whether he hold's another man's "c*ck" and gives him a hand job (for being involved with this whole matter).
  • A man mentions that a woman "sucked my d*ck for money" and Tom sarcastically asks him if was hard for him to "come."
  • Tom smokes throughout the film, with some early scenes having his wife get after him about that.
  • Max also smoke several times, as do Mrs. Mathews and Velvet, while miscellaneous characters also smoke in various shots.
  • Tom's long absences and change of behavior puts a strain on his marriage.
  • A mother must deal with her daughter's long disappearance (she ran away from home), the possibility that she may be dead, as well as the reported fights between her, her daughter, and the girl's stepfather.
  • An elderly woman reports that her husband has recently died.
  • Whether such "snuff" films really exist, as well as the whole issue of pornography.
  • Tom's descent into madness and whether the actions he eventually takes are justified by any means.
  • Tom watches the "snuff" film and we see fleeting images of a masked man striking a young woman, and then slashing at her with a knife (no impact seen, but some blood as well as Tom's disturbed and sickened reaction).
  • We later see more views of the film, including the masked man holding a knife to the girl's throat.
  • An underground dealer grabs and pushes Max for asking about "snuff" films, Tom tries to intervene and the dealer pulls out a gun and holds it on Tom, taking their money and making them leave (while kicking Tom).
  • Tom and Max watch several films where naked or scantily clad women appear to be raped and/or killed (including a man wielding and then swinging a large sword), although they later determine that those actions are faked.
  • A man chases after Tom who eventually knocks that man into a drained swimming pool.
  • Velvet holds a crossbow on Tom, and Machine then holds a knife to his throat. Eddie then punches Tom in the face. We then see Max whose face is very bloody, implying that he's been beaten (and Velvet says, "We're gonna kill him, f*ck him, and then film it").
  • A man is killed and Tom is repeatedly and severely punched and kicked.
  • Several characters come after another character, with one being shot with a crossbow who manages to get off a gunshot that fatally wounds another man in the neck (the latter of whom is very bloody).
  • Two men punch each other, and Tom stabs another man in the gut with a metal rod.
  • A man fires a shot at Tom as he runs away, and then fires more shots at him as he drives away (with several bullets striking the car).
  • We learn that a character committed suicide over these matters.
  • Tom punches and then repeatedly and severely kicks another involved man, trying to get information out of him, and then holds a gun on him. Later, Tom does the same again to this man, coming very close to shooting him in the head. He then wraps electrical wiring around the man's throat (choking him) and ties him up in a deserted room.
  • A man pummels another man to death (mostly not seen) and then sets him, some porno material and the abandoned house that they're in on fire.
  • Two men get into a fight and struggle, with one being thrown through a second story window to the ground below, with the other eventually falling to the ground as well. The second man comes after the first with a knife, and the first then impales the second with another object. More struggling and several stabbings later, one of the men is dead.

  • Reviewed February 22, 1999 / Posted February 26, 1999

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