Release year: 1999 • Posted October 12, 2014
“In order to know virtue, we must first acquaint ourselves with vice.”
Marquis de Sade
The sexual practices of American film and TV characters deserve their own study. Throughout the 1950s, married couples on television were almost always shown sleeping in separate twin beds. It’s difficult to believe how quickly and wildly depictions of relationships have changed. Less than 50 years after Lucy and Ricky had a baby, Nicolas Cage and Joel Schumacher would work together on 8mm, a movie about an investigation into the source of a pornographic snuff film.
Nicolas Cage plays Tom Welles, a private investigator hired by a recently widowed millionaire to look into an eight-millimeter snuff film she found among her late husband’s effects. Welles begins a journey that rapidly descends into a grimy underworld of hardcore porn. After meeting the victim’s mother and discovering that the film is real, Welles resolves to get to the bottom of the case no matter how much horror-porn he has to consume. He becomes more and more immoral in his tactics, unraveling mentally and emotionally just like you want a Nic Cage character to do, across a landscape that pushes the limits of R-rated violence.
Despite the director, 8mm is surprisingly good. Much of that is because of the writer, Andrew Kevin Walker, who also wrote the infinitely re-watchable Seven. It’s well structured, keeping the tension thick throughout. While it might not have been apparent at the time, it has an incredible cast by today’s standards that includes Catherine Keener, Peter Stormare, Joaquin Phoenix, and James Gandolfini. All around 8mm is good, particularly because of Nicolas Cage.
As noted last week, one of the reasons to use Nicolas Cage in your movie is because you need someone who can pull off a controlled descent into madness. Cage, who has the capability of portraying grounded characters and crazy characters with equal authenticity, gets to do both in this movie. He’s like a top that starts spinning flawlessly in one spot but gradually wobbles off center, only to end up rocking back on forth on the ground.
If you think about it, glutting yourself on BDSM when you’re not into BDSM would be pretty depressing and traumatizing, especially if a grisly sex murder was your only reason for watching. Cage connects with this (admittedly obvious) motivation and uses his performance to steady a movie that could have gone awry without someone as talented as Nic. He drags the viewer along with his individual marque of crazy, climaxing in him screaming at the victim’s mother for her permission to violently avenge her daughter’s death. (He does and it’s gruesome.)
8mm is a well paced, well acted movie. It’s taboo, so it’s got that little something extra. It’s also another movie cast by Mindy Marin, who clearly knows how to use Nicolas Cage. I’m actually pretty surprised by how much I liked it. Perhaps that’s the best of all possible Cage scenarios?
- Nic Cage’s acting?
- Better than good
- Did his performance make the movie worse?
- It improved it!