8mm Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker
1999, 123 minutes, Rated R
Released on January 8th, 2019
Nicolas Cage as Tom Welles
Joaquin Phoenix as Max California
James Gandolfini as Eddie Poole
Peter Stormare as Dino Velvet
Catherine Keener as Amy Welles
Anthony Heald as Daniel Longdale
Chris Bauer as Machine
Tom Welles is a private investigator hired to uncover the truth behind a supposed snuff film. His employer, a wealthy widow, wants to know if the material is real or not for the sake of her late husband’s reputation. Tom’s quest takes him from Pennsylvania to Cleveland where he identifies the missing girl and contacts her mother. From there he follows a lead to Los Angeles where he crosses paths with Max California, a low-level pornography clerk with an ear to the underground. Max leads Tom on a journey into the world of illegal underground pornography; rape, child porn, bestiality, and so on. As Tom advances down this path, Max warns him he will be forever changed by what he sees. He continues to piece together the puzzle and is deeply in over his head when he uncovers the shocking truth.
Tom is a family man with a loving wife and newborn daughter waiting at home. As he descends into this living hell of pornography, he grows farther and farther away from his life of safety. He dutifully calls home and frequently checks in with his employer to provide updates on the case, but the work is getting to him. Max does his best to shield him from the darker side of things, but Tom needs to follow this search as deep as it goes to find the answers. He crosses paths with a scumbag talent scout named Eddie Poole, who in turn leads him to a filmmaker named Dino Velvet. Velvet is not a man to be messed with and Tom is about to learn some hard lessons.
Director Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys) steps into the shadows of the porn industry’s seedy underbelly with this disturbing look at broken dreams and shattered lives. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Brainscan) steps into Paul Schrader territory with a tale that echoes that filmmaker’s Hardcore (1979). This is a studio film and the material is edgy but still played a bit safe and I would be curious to see how an independent picture would have differed. Walker creates a dark world and populates it with interesting characters and sketchy locations. Schumacher’s direction is accomplished as he leads us on this disturbing journey into violence and loss. Some sequences are beautifully staged and he brings his distinct visual style to the story.
Nicolas Cage (Wild at Heart) delivers a subdued performance as Tom Welles, a man determined to do the right thing even if he has to break the law to do it. He disappears down the rabbit hole of illegal porn and sacrifices a part of himself in the process. Cage is really good here and remains likeable no matter how dark the character becomes. Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator) is Max, the social conscience of the picture and he brings a lot of energy to the role. He defends his position of selling pornography with a rational argument that keeps him morally straight. Catherine Keener (Get Out) plays Tom’s wife, Amy, who is his anchor to normalcy. She puts up with a lot before reaching her own breaking point and tries to remain supportive to her husband.
The extended cast is a solid group of familiar faces, starting with the late James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) as Eddie Poole, the scumbag talent scout using young girls to his advantage while promising them the world. I really hate Eddie Poole, as I am meant to, but Gandolfini plays the role like a boss. He disappears into the sleazy man’s skin and plays the hell out of the part. Peter Stormare (Fargo) is unsettling as the dangerous and unpredictable Dino Velvet. He owns every second of his screen time and leaves a lasting impression. Filling the role of smarmy lawyer Daniel Longdale is the always-welcome Anthony Heald (Silence of the Lambs), who starts off as a standoffish professional liaison to the job at hand but becomes something much more. Look for Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) in an early role as a trashy ex-boyfriend cooling his heels in jail. He’s only got the one scene, but he is instantly memorable.
I pointed out the strength of Cage’s performance, but there is one particularly over-the-top moment that always makes me smile. When watching the snuff film for the first time, he flinches dramatically when the girl in the film gets slapped. It’s a snuff film for God’s sake, she’s not going to get any better treatment and yet he is already wincing at a slap. He doesn’t appear to be a very experienced private investigator. Although we only see brief snippets of the film in question, I wish we didn’t see anything and simply imagine the horrors based off his reactions. 8mm is a nice look at society’s underbelly albeit told through Hollywood’s lens and sensibilities. There weren’t a lot of films like it at the time of release and was a bit naughty in reputation. The movie holds up well and fans will have little dilemma deciding whether or not to pick this one up.
Video and Audio:
Appearing in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the film receives a strong but dated transfer that contains bright colors and rich black levels. There is a lot of small-object detail found here as well, making for a satisfying experience.
A DTS-HD MA 5.1 gives the rear channels a workout with music and effects cues. Dialogue is always clean and free from distortion. A DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is also included but I prefer the expanded mix.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Director Joel Schumacher recorded an audio commentary for the film’s DVD release and that track has been carried over here. The conversational deconstruction of the movie provides a steady flow of information and background on the production. Schumacher has no trouble keeping pace with the material and never slips into onscreen narration or extended gaps of silence. This is a solid audio option that fans will definitely want to give a listen.
Schumacher returns to the material in the all-new interview 8mm in 35mm (21 minutes) and shares a history of the production from receiving the script to casting and studio reactions to the material. He talks about some of the authenticity of shooting actual fetish artists and his personal exposure to the world of underground pornography. This is an informative and entertaining segment well worth checking out.
A vintage EPK (5 minutes) provides a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie featuring interviews with Schumacher, Cage and Joaquim Phoenix and a look at the filming process.
The theatrical trailer is paired with a set of TV spots.
A still gallery featuring promotional images, international poster art, behind the scenes images and lobby cards plays as a silent slideshow (7 minutes).