8MM (1999)

Joel Schumacher directs Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix and James Gandolfini in this detective thriller where an investigator needs to discover whether a reel of ‘snuff’ footage is real.

I remember this being a disappointment on release. Cage was at the height of his box office powers. Andrew Kevin Walker’s script was a selling point after the notoriety of Se7en and The Game. Schumacher was a Hollywood man but if you looked at his Falling Down / Flatliners / A Time To Kill output, not the worst marriage of material and hack. And for the first hour it gets away with it. Cage is subdued but committed. The sleazy world of porn and BDSM that he edges around is as convincing as the one George C Scott visited 20 years previously in the superior Hardcore. Joaquin makes for a show-stealing sidekick. Schumacher xeroxes the autumnal look and morbid pacing from Fincher’s adaptations of AKWs work. Walker has said that Schumacher entirely diluted his script. The draft I’ve read is only a shade darker. Maybe a better director would amp up the sad, threatening atmosphere… but Schumacher as far as I can read is pretty faithful to what is on the page. Yet we tonally go off the rails at the end of the second act. The mystery element gets wrapped up too quickly. Believability goes out the window. The psychological abyss you suspect Cage’s family man is being dragged into is skirted over. The risk he puts his loved ones in by entering this world should be heart jolting yet never comes to a head. Violent pornographers, psychos in gimp masks, upper class conspiracies are dashed through toothlessly to get to a shootout in a warehouse and punch up in a cemetery. The ball is fumbled near the touchdown line. What could have exploded into a morally bankrupt rollercoaster just kinda peters out into comic book excess. From the maker of Batman Forever… and yet not as bad as I remember.

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