on February 26, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
Apparently even the underground porn industry has limits. Private detective Tom Welles ("Snake Eyes'" Nicolas Cage), recognized for his discretion in delicate matters, agrees to investigate the origin of a snuff film for a wealthy, elderly widow, who found it among her husband's belongings. With help from a porn store clerk ("Clay Pigeons'" Joaquin Phoenix), Welles descends into a world of sex, violence and videotape, intent on finding out not only who made the film, but why. Neither of these answers comes easy, though, as snuff's still not much more than an urban myth even in your average porn ring, and sometimes there isn't a reason why.
As the case unravels, revelations that are supposed to be shockingly perverse are merely letdown cop-outs to which most audience members will be benumbed from their everyday evening-news experience. In the end, the surprise plot twists make perfect sense, and it becomes clear that the mystery that's supposed to be driving the suspense was obvious from the beginning.
The challenge here is making a mainstream film about porn while maintaining an acceptable MPAA rating, especially when you're exploring the darker, violent side of the industry. The result is dark lighting, bathing the characters in intense shadows, clever editing of the X-plus material, leaving as much as possible to the imagination, and reaction shots, which amounts to the audience watching the characters watch the film. This technique's not without problems. The implication is that the subject matter is so horrifying that it's beyond the layperson's comprehension, and since we can't actually view it, the resulting effect is less shocking than it needs to be. Starring Nicolas Cage and Joaquin Phoenix. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Produced by Judy Hofflund and Gavin Polone. A Columbia release. Thriller. Rated R for strong perverse sexuality and violence and strong language. Running time: 123 min.
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