Pretty much every Nicolas Cage movie these days is packed with little glorious Cagisms so you'd expect a film by Joel Schumacher, the man behind Batman & Robin (and other, admittedly better films) to offer us a good bunch of those and yet 8MM is actually disappointingly low on Cage lols.
This is quite probably because it's a decent flick with a darker plot and a Roman Polanski-esque tone throughout making it difficult to burst out laughing constantly Wicker Man-style. The plot follows Tom Welles (Cage), a private investigator, as he investigates a snuff film in which a young girl could have been killed for real. This search takes him down a sleazy road he's obviously not used to and to a grim underworld he never knew existed. On the way, he gets the help of a sex shop clerk with the hard-to-forget name of Max California (the ever brilliant Joaquin Phoenix) and has to deal with a good bunch of dodgy, twisted characters. It's one of those descent-into-hell type thrillers like The Ninth Gate where you see a character go down a road he really shouldn't be taking, clearly loaded with traps and danger, as you keep your fingers crossed that the ending delivers something unexpected and unique because these movies, more often than not, tend to fail in that department, usually giving us half-assed or convoluted third acts. Sadly, the curse of the descent-into-hell thriller continues here as Welles' over-involvement in this whole case, in the film's last 15 minutes, fails to convince.
That said, 8MM is still a tense, effective little thriller. Schumacher doesn't let it get too goofy, even if we do meet a Peter Stormare snuff movie director called Dino Velvet at one point. Cage gives a restrained, measured performance which probably won't always sell you but which will at least make you care about his character and what he's trying to achieve. Catherine Keener pops up as his long-suffering wife and, although she doesn't get much to do, she does a decent job with the part she was given. The hugely talented and reliable Keener probably should have been handed a more significant part, though, frankly. 8MM has a gloomy tone and a slimy vibe but it's not all gloom and doom, it does have a slight sense of humour, even if it is pretty dark. With a tad more consistency near the end, this could have been a cool Dario Argento-lite tale. As it stands, it's still a worthy thriller with a solid cast and solid direction holding it together pretty darn well. Also look out for James Gandolfini playing a thoroughly dislikable character and doing it flawlessly, as ever.
That so many dismissed 8MM as just a missed opportunity and tossed it to the side is a real shame because, really, it's not bad. Not bad at all. I wouldn't call it essential viewing but if you like Nicolas Cage movies and you like a good, slightly weird thriller then you could definitely do a lot worse than this one. Whether the ending will work for you or not I don't know but the rest of the film is well made and surprisingly compelling.