Tom Welles (Nicholas Cage) is a down-on-his-luck private investigator with a wife (Catherine Keener) and a very young child.
He’s called to the estate of the extremely wealthy Mrs Christian. Her husband died not long before and, when she went through his things, she came upon an 8mm film where a young woman appeared to be raped and murdered. Welles explains there are things called snuff films, but most people think they’re myths.
Mrs Christian wants to know if it’s authentic–if the girl was still alive. She offers to pay the detective handsomely to find out and to do so discreetly.
(The Christians’ long-time attorney who’d be facilitating monetary transactions and such was played by Anthony Heald, someone I’ve had a soft spot for since he played Dr Chilton in Silence of the Lambs. He does an admirable job in this film. Even though his mustache is a little…)
Welles takes the job, lured by the enormous amount of cash on offer, as it will secure his, currently-not-even-walking-yet child’s future. His prolonged absence strains his marriage, though we only know he’s away for an extended period because the characters tell us–there’s nothing to denote a great passage of time. Fair dues, though, most investigative work consists of looking at paperwork/computer monitors and not having your phone calls returned.
Anyway, Welles’ trip eventually lands him in L.A. where he befriends a young man working in a scuzzy porn shop. His name is Max California (Joaquin Phoenix)–he’s the street-smart sidekick who helps our intrepid P.I. and family man navigate the seamy underbelly of hardcore BDSM porn. Phoenix was excellent in this role and had some laugh out loud lines.
Two lesser parts were played by perpetual Eurotrash villain Peter Stormare (love this guy!) and James Gandolfini (miss this guy!) So the casting was right on point.
It’s pretty typical Hollywood suspense fare, if just slightly better. Many reviews thought the tone was grim and the violence too…violent. Perhaps it was for 1999, but now it seems either tame or on par with anything else you’d see.
I like grim and violent and a little nihilistic and BDSM, so I’m giving this 4/5.