REVIEW: Nine

NINE
119 Minutes // USA // The Weinstein Company
dir. Rob Marshall
Monday, December 28th, 2009 – Cineplex Varsity
starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard & Penelope Cruz

After winning Best Picture in 2002 and being surprisingly snubbed for major awards recognition in 2005, Rob Marshall’s adaptation of Nine appeared to be his middle finger to the Academy and to those that doubted his ability and labeled him a one hit wonder (after only two films). However, if anything, Marshall has only added fuel to the fire and is finding himself the one being burned and not the one flipping it.

After the interesting opening scene is beat to shreds by an auspicious musical number, you’ll want to find the a very comfortable position in your seat because you know you’ll be in for a long, tattered ride. For the most part, the story is very compelling and Guido’s life is written to be as far from cinematic as the film you’re watching – one of the reasons why the film finds itself in trouble as an ostentatious piece – which is a great story to behold, but it’s the musical aspect that rips away the subtleties needed to make this story at all profound. So if without the intermittent song, dance and sexy sequences, Nine would’ve been a great story and cinema experience alike… but then I guess you’re left with 8½.

As I’m sure you know already (but am just saying for clarification reasons) the story is about Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis), a director who was once amongst the best in the world, but now finds his career in decline and who is struggling to put together a competent script for his latest feature ‘Italiana’ due to his soporific mind. In seeking to find inspiration, he ruminates about the seven important women in his life and the drama that comes found in his relationships with them. The webs of deceit and his negligence towards anyone’s happiness but his own. What keeps this concept that could easily find itself repetitive are the interesting, if too briefly developed women in Guido’s life that range from his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), dead mother (Sophia Loren), mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), consistent leading lady Claudia (Nicole Kidman), first sexual encounter Saraghina (Fergie), a persistent reporter named Stephanie (Kate Hudson) and long time friend/costume designer of his films in Lilli (Judi Dench). In fact, the only two completely tedious characters of the six are the latter two mentioned. Their scenes – and especially musical numbers – will either have you yawning or checking your watch, because this is where Marshall’s vision is found to define tawdry.

Apart from the occasional cutting from an interesting scene to give a less ambitious one more frames, this feature is a pretty entertaining affair. It all boils down to your opinion of histrionics — are you a fan or not? If you are, you’ll be more inclined to love the film; if not, odds are the only thing about this production you’ll like is Marion Cotillard’s performance.

A key issue Nine has is with its leading man, Daniel Day-Lewis. Is he poor in the role? No, but this isn’t the problem. The problem is that Daniel Day-Lewis is a very theatrical actor; his jarring mannerisms and unique speech pattern are two of his most noticeable traits, which makes him not only a fun actor to watch perform, but asserts dominance in the film and dares you not to stare at him. You’d assume in a musical this would be cause for his best performance to date, but instead he just blends in with the extravagance. In fact, the only time you ever really notice Daniel Day-Lewis is when Marshall allows his lead’s expressive face to be the focus of the scene rather than his budget, which doesn’t happen too often.

Which brings me to my next point – body language. There’s too much of it in this film; Marshall’s vision is full of energy and dance numbers, but he doesn’t balance out the erratic body movement with the emotive faces of his actors to a point that even nears a fair ratio.

There is a scene near the end where Luisa’s feelings for Guido are conveyed without mitigation through a dire monologue of sorts; their faces the focus of the scene. Here’s where you’ll feel that Marshall missed a truly great opportunity; that if he focused more on the souls at hand in juxtaposition to dressing them up and parading them around flimsily, that this could have been a grand production.

There are two aspects that keep this film from capsizing. Although it is quite a pablum of a script, the film’s cast rises above the material beautifully and does what they do best. While the two elders and Kate Hudson do nothing significant and are rather boring, they’re given little to do in the first place and don’t aren’t too baneful to the overall ensemble. Rather, the main trio (Day-Lewis, Cruz, Cotillard), Nicole Kidman and Fergie turn in some rather exciting work. I’ve already gone over Day-Lewis, but he’s very consistent and when given a few moments of face time is completely tacit in his emotional conveyance; Penelope Cruz – who had a rough opening half as an inane and near lunatic – closes off her performance with two compelling scenes that brings it all together; Nicole Kidman demonstrates why she’s one of the finest working actresses in a short, but saccharine performance that, while written vapidly, is cause for the most engaging moments in the film; and Fergie: or, the only woman who could hold such a powerful tune in a film where it needed more of them to stay thematically resonant. However, however, however – it’s the demure Marion Cotillard who is makes her performance most felt. Perhaps it’s because her portrayal clashes so much with what the feature stands for that it can’t go unnoticed or maybe it’s because hearing her dulcet voice as cacophonous is so unusual that one’s taken aback – either way, she exposes Luisa’s melancholy with a tenderness unbeknownst to 2009’s cinematic efforts.

The second aspect is the final act. Not only does it exceed the prior two, but it does it with such emphasis that you may become enamored with the entire film. These are the scenes where we see Guido most expressive and exhausted from his detrimental worldly contemplations. There are a few stretches without any musical numbers (which is relieving) but one involving his mother is superimposed and is the only glaring flaw that the act contains. It’s also the act that contains the fewest long shots which makes it all the more intimate, while the others distance the audience with their excessive use of them.

It’s a pretty heavy tale glossed over to visually stagger when it could’ve been just as — if not, more — effective if shot on a Super 8 on a minuscule budget. Its core is beautiful, but its package is ugly – despite what Marshall believes. With a myriad of landscape shots and immense focus on the garish, Rob Marshall often neglects his performers any prolonged close-ups – making it apparent that he had never heard the proverb “the eyes are the gateway to the soul” or perhaps he would’ve allowed his actors more face time and fulfilled his obligation as director to imbue life and soul into his script.

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