I’m sure that if you’ve read my article on the Top 5 Films of the 2000’s, then you recognize my blatant hero worship of Daniel Day-Lewis. Characters like Daniel Plainview, Bill the Butcher, Hawkeye, and Christy Brown are so intimately personified by the man that I believe he could go method and play a rock and still make it a powerful performance. So, how does his latest film Nine stack up?
I’ll tell you. Poorly. Not because of DDL’s efforts, he is actually quite good as expected. It’s just that the film around him is so much less than the collection of its parts that it’s almost confusing how it got into such bad shape.
Obviously, this is a huge change of pace for DDL. In his last two major films he has played two very dark, very intense, very demanding characters. Here, we see him embody Guido Contini, an Italian film director who is struggling to prepare his next film “Italia”.
He never seems to be able to focus, and with everyone from producers to his leading lady pressuring him, and the weight of returning to old form on his shoulders, Guido tries and tries again to get it together to make an epic film while also trying to salvage his marriage.
Now, the premise of the film is fine. It’s based on the film 8 1/2 that I criminally have not yet seen. On paper, it looks like it could be a very palpable struggle between a man juggling between his career and his personal life, and at times it is. The problem is that in making it a musical film, they are forced to play by the rules of a musical.
Day-Lewis is the focus of the film, and hero worship aside, he’s literally the only real reason to see this movie. His portrayal of Contini demands your attention, he’s a flawed but charming man, one who puts the audience in a difficult position. Day-Lewis dons a role that is much lighter than most will expect from him, but there is a lot of internal struggle that is going on within Guido, and Day-Lewis handles it great. He commands every scene he’s in, thick Italian accent and brisk charm, but tragically there is more negative to the film than this one very good performance can overshadow.
Nine stumbles immediately out of the gate, as it becomes quite obvious that we have an absolutely star-studded cast while sacrificing character development for everyone else. Guido is developed just fine, and the audience gets a nice handle on the man that he is. Every female character’s involvement seems so fleeting it’s tough to really care for them much at all. The performances are just fine, actually above average. It’s just maddening that the formula is repeated with every one of them, and nothing unique happens. The film centers around Guido’s inability to put together a script for his new film, questioning whether he has anything stories left to tell, but the script for the Nine itself is thinner than a high schooler with an eating disorder right before the prom.
You see the cast, with Academy Award Winners all over the place, but outside of Day-Lewis they get virtually nothing to make you care. Nicole Kidman plays Claudia, Guido’s leading lady and muse, but she gets maybe ten minutes of screen time in the whole film. Other supposedly major roles, starring Judi Dench as his confidant, Penelope Cruz as the mistress, Kate Hudson as a reporter, Fergie as a gypsy whore, and Marion Cotillard as his wife have so little to work with. Each female pops up for a scene and a song, and then they’re gone. Which wouldn’t have even been awful. It’s just that nothing seems to matter. None of the relationships struck me as real or true. They all felt pretty forced, with the exception of Cotillard, who gets a meager bit more. None of the female cast gets barely more than ten minutes on screen. I actually feel bad for fans of these actresses who were expecting supporting roles from them, because they are more or less extras in music videos when they get a chance.
Director Rob Marshall proves that a one-trick pony can stumble when they try too hard to recreate past magic, and its another ironic twist about the movie. Guido is doing the exact same thing, trying to repair his public image after a couple of “flops”, but Marshall’s crimes are worse. We are paying to watch his film, Guido’s is fictionalized. The directing is choppy, lacks any dignity, and is blatantly disrespectful of its audience. It’s formulaic and is precisely the way NOT to do a musical. It’s twenty minutes of a movie, then a five minute music video with another female character we barely care about, and then rinse and repeat for two whole hours. The songs are catchy enough, but nothing distinguishes them other than who is singing them, and even then their voices sound so similar it’s tough to really judge them. I don’t doubt that the Tony Award winning play is probably handled much better and probably comes off cleaner and less choppy than it does here, but that still doesn’t mean the movie can get a free pass based on reputation.
The cinematography is another strong point, and Dion Beebe has a knack for composing some breathtaking shots. He is given a lavish country with which to find beauty and he does so with ease and puts together a movie that looks fantastic, but tragically the movie itself gets in the way.
Nine is not a bad film, it’s just majorly disappointing. Daniel Day-Lewis shines, but if you are a fan of any of the supposed female supporting actresses, I would skip it unless you aren’t spending a ton of money to see it. They each get so little screen time it should be a crime, and it would behoove you to just rent one of their films where they can actually show off their acting chops, rather than here where they are basically in a very expensive and high production value music video. None of the relationships really feel genuine, and in a film that is based on these relationships, that means its damned from the get-go. Rob Marshall tries and fails to give us any reason to care about the film that, although beautifully shot, is one of the major disappointments of the year.
- Daniel Day-Lewis
- The cast
- Dion Beebe’s cinematography
- No character development outside of Guido
- Rob Marshall’s approach
- Wasting a terrific cast
- No stand-out songs
Final Score: 6.5/10 (Decent)