Jennifer Eight 1992 Movie Scene Andy Garcia as John Berlin finding a bullet at the dump

Jennifer Eight [1992]

As I was watching this movie, I realized that I use the term underrated too loosely in my movie recommendations. I mean, there are levels to this shit and usually, we’re at the lower end of the spectrum. However, some great movies are truly underappreciated and this is one of them. Jennifer Eight is a gripping neo-noir murder mystery about an elusive and vicious serial killer. When you read something like this, you’re probably thinking of a number of other movies using the same plot points. And yet, this one feels entirely different. This is something you’re going to feel from the first minute. We will be following a burnt-out Los Angeles detective John Berlin who, after returning to his small hometown, catches a puzzling case.

He’s got one dead body and one severed hand that doesn’t belong to that body. It’s not much, but for an experienced and dedicated detective like Berlin, it just might be enough. And soon, he will start connecting the dots. Right from that opening scene and authentic dialogue it accompanies it, you’ll get a feeling that this is a well-thought-out movie. The characters behave like normal humans and not stereotypical card-board cutouts we usually get in other movies. Actually, this technical aspect of the movie makes it a procedural thriller although it’s so much more than that. We will also get gripping interrogations, a bit of romance and a whole lot of mystery.

Jennifer Eight is written and directed by the enigmatic Bruce Robinson, the guy behind the hedonistic/nihilistic masterpiece Withnail & I. He carefully constructed the story and the characters before streamlining everything for the viewer. This is why you will get this feeling that anything can happen in this movie. Anyone could be the killer and I really mean anyone. Moreover, it might turn out that there’s no killer after all. I don’t want to reveal too much as this is one of those movies you just jump into. Robinson wanted to make a “perfect commercial thriller” that would bankroll his other, less lucrative projects. Alas, the movie was a box office bomb and that didn’t happen.

It would take almost twenty years for him to make another movie, The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The cast here is freaking phenomenal. Andy Garcia is in the lead role giving one hell of a performance. I have never seen him this angry and emotional. Next to him we have the dependable Lance Henriksen and dreamy Uma Thurman. To top things off, none other than John Malkovich will make an appearance in the final third as the tough FBI agent St. Anne. Jennifer Eight tries to do and be a lot of things at once. It’s a complex movie featuring a lot of characters and subplots all interacting with each other.

I didn’t find it confusing as the focus is on our lead detective John Berlin and his quest to solve the case. Underneath all of these events there’s a strong psychological thriller undercurrent delving deeper into the character’s motivations. I wish the romantic subplot wasn’t so prominent but what can you do. After all, this was supposed to be a commercial thriller. Perhaps this also explains the lack of graphic violence and gruesome scenes in this serial killer movie. Speaking of the visuals, the cinematography was absolutely sublime. And the locations are even better.

While the imposing institute looks like it belongs in a horror movie, the rest of them paint a perfect picture of the quiet little coastal town. We will also go through all weather conditions, from pouring rain over snow blizzards to finally sunny days. All of this reminds me of another underrated nineties neo-noir thriller, Switchback. Finally, if you’re looking for more movies like Jennifer Eight, do check out China Moon, Mulholland Falls, and Just Cause.

Director: Bruce Robinson

Writer: Bruce Robinson

Cast: Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, Lance Henriksen, Graham Beckel, John Malkovich, Kathy Baker

Fun Facts: Al Pacino was supposed to play the lead role of detective John Berlin but it eventually ended up in the hands of Andy Garcia.


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