Today is a cinematic milestone for our beloved co-founder Dylan. On this day fifty years ago, the great, ever-working Nicolas Cage was born. In celebration of Nicholas Coppola’s birthday, and Dylan’s well-known feelings for him, I am compelled to not only induct one of his films into the vault, but announce a special cross-column feature hereby dubbed, in his honor, Cage Match: Then and Now! What this means is that come Friday’s Panning the Stream review, we’ll be taking a look at some of Mr. Cage’s more recent, direct-to-digital fare. Until then, we travel back in time fifteen years to a film widely criticized and despised.
After the death of her wealthy, well-respected husband, Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) has her attorney Mr. Longdale (Anthony Heald) hire the services of private investigator Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage). A reputation for being both capable and discreet, Welles is shown what appears to be a “snuff film” found in her late husband’s safe wherein a young girl is brutally murdered. Welles is asked to ascertain its authenticity, specifically uncover whether the girl is truly dead. Welles follows the trail to California where he enlists adult store clerk Max California (Joaquin Phoenix). Max becomes a sort of tour guide to the Who’s Who in illegal pornography. As Welles delves deeper into the obscene underworld, he gets closer to finding answers, but the cost of the truth may be more than he can pay.
You’d think, having the reputation as being the Reel Whore, that I would have long ago watched 8MM given its… colorful underpinnings. Truth be told, I probably would have watched it except for two things; word-of-mouth was horrendous and I was still holding a grudge against director Joel Schumacher for flogging, screwing, and then microwaving the pooch with his previous film Batman & Robin.
Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, and their DVD of 8MM, I was finally able to see for myself what sort of steaming pile Cage churned out. Turns out 8MM is anything but. I can see why folks wouldn’t flock to see it; it’s not the type of subject matter that would appeal to the masses. It’s one thing for L&O:SVU‘s Stabler and Benson to track down a killer during primetime, but it’s quite another to quietly join Welles in his quest-turned-obsession. The script, penned initially by Andrew Kevin Walker, but later revised by Schumacher and Nicholas Kazan much to Walker’s dismay, provides a stark look at some of the darker proclivities of man.
Of course, the R rating spares audiences from much of the perverse sexuality, but the glimpses it provides, as well as the reactions of Welles and Max are enough to conjure grim mental imagery. 8MM isn’t here to sensationalize, but to address the more compelling questions like, how is Welles, a decent husband and loving father, affected by witnessing the brutal murder of an innocent young woman and, more importantly, how does he react when facing the depraved souls responsible?
Cage is an excellent choice to play Welles. His shift from doing his job to becoming consumed by the savagery inflicted really come through. The lengths to which he’s driven and the haunting effect it has on him aren’t washed over for the sake of a splashy grand ending. 8MM goes to dark places, and as they say, when in Rome.
Aside from a helpful and solid supporting performance by Phoenix as Max, Welles encounters a young Norman Reedus as Mary’s uncaring, ex-boyfriend. The late James Gandolfini plays a weaselly thug/talent scout. The always enjoyable Peter Stormare portrays pornographer extraordinaire Dino Velvet in the overly creepy way only he can. Chris Bauer and Catherine Keener round out the supporting cast.
Having now watched 8MM, I wish I had shirked all the bad press and my Schumacher grudge to have watched it all those years ago. I recognize it will not be everyone’s cup of tea. Still it’s definitely a movie that I recommend folks give a chance; assuming they can stomach the sordid themes or, in Dylan’s case, Nicolas Cage.