(This next paragraph will not spoil the film, but will describe a key scene, so skip it if you wish.)
One moment that stands out in my mind in particular is when Welles is seeing the snuff film for the first time. The shot has Welles sitting next to the projector, its clattering purr is unnerving, the screen is to the right. On it, we see a withered, distraught girl sitting on a bed, tears rolling down her face. The room is filthy, we want to leave it, like her, but we cannot. Into the fame walks a massive being wearing a leather S&M mask, he gently touches her face, then slaps her with the back of his hand. He turns her his back to her and walks to a table, the camera is right at his side, on it is an array of knives. He carefully chooses one. Picks it up. Then slowly he raises his head and looks straight at the camera. You just know he is smiling under the mask, smiling about what he is about to do, just smiling. At this moment, we pull away from the projector screen and begin to focus on Cages' face. This tells the rest of the story.
The world has many corners, even though it's round. In these corners the light is dim, there is smell in the air. When you are in the darkness, your gut tells you should not be there, but, something compels you to go. No matter how many warnings are in front of you. To go there for moments and get frightened or excited may thrill. But to go there, and get sucked into it, to live it, to be obsessed by it, would destroy any human.
8mm takes you there for a few moments. Glimpsing at the sordid underworld of "snuff movies" and the decay of human souls that surrounds it.
Nicholas Cage gives a performance that would remind us of his better days in the eighties as Tom Welles a P.I.. He is renowned in his field as one of the best. And from very early on, we can see why. He is not the wise-ass, one-liner cracking, lonely, tortured soul, private investigator we all have become so familiar with through our lives watching films. Instead, he is a family man, his wife is trying to make him quit smoking, he loves her and his daughter dearly. He is a professional business man, each job is another way to pay the mortgage, each client is treated the way they should, with care and respect. He does everything above board and informs his client of every move he makes. When it comes to his work, he is cold, he has to be, because his job demands it. He is real.
Welles has been hired by the widow of an industrial tycoon. She shows him a home-made snuff film that has been found in the safe of her late husband. In it, a girl is brutally murdered. Welles' task is to find out the truth about this film, he must find the girl dead or alive. The plot stands at that.
The film then follows Welles on his journey into seedier underbelly of American society. From L.A. to New York, we watch him try to piece together pieces of a horrible puzzle. He recruits the assistance of a porn shop worker (Phoenix) and with his help Welles is guided further and further towards or away from an answer.
What one would expect to get from this film is some sort of an answer to the question of why people do the horrible things they do. But, ultimately this is disregarded, the whole issue is handled in a "boogie man in the closet" type of way, with the bad guys being treated with the two dimensional depth that Schumacher seems to have perfected while making Batman And Robin. As I said before, this film just glimpses at that the world it should have examined, it loses that opportunity to address some still taboo issues that I believe need to be addressed.
It is the handling of Welles' character that this film is triumphant. How long can a human take this world before it gets to them. The very principal can be seen The Thin Red Line, both, Welles and those men fighting in the Guadacanal fight a similar demon. This demon wants the soul. Like those at war, if Welles lets the world he is fighting in to become his world, he loses everything. As they say "Every man has his breaking point", or "There is a thin red line between sanity and madness".
Andrew Kevin Walkers' previous effort was Se7en, one of the finest films of the nineties. With the aid of David Fincher as director, the film captured something horrible, dark and provoking. This film tries to go down a similar alley, but makes only as far as the gate. The dialogue is not as impressive and the characters are not as well developed. But for most, the gate is as far as we would want to go.