Sunday, December 27, 2009

Movie Review: Nine

Nine *** ½
Directed By:
Rob Marshall.
Written By: Michael Tolkin & Anthony Minghella based on the play by Arthur Kopi & Maury Yeston & Mario Fratti.
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis (Guido Contini), Marion Cotillard (Luisa Contini), Penélope Cruz (Carla), Nicole Kidman (Claudia), Judi Dench (Lilli), Kate Hudson (Stephanie), Sophia Loren (Mamma), Stacy Ferguson (Saraghina).

Nine is a movie made up of great moments. In fact, there is hardly a scene in Nine that in itself is not wonderful. Based on a Broadway musical, which itself was based on Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, one of the greatest films of all time, Nine is a portrait of a movie director in crisis. While Fellini’s film is a masterpiece, and the best film ever made about a filmmaker, Nine is content to simply tell the story in the broadest of terms. The songs are wonderful, the visual look great, the performances entertaining, but there just seems to be something missing from the movie that prevents it from becoming truly great.

Daniel Day-Lewis is Guido Contini, once the biggest name in Italian cinema, whose last two films have bombed. Now he is 10 days away from starting production on his next film with one major problem - he hasn’t even started the script yet and has no idea what to write. They have already cast Claudia Jensen (Nicole Kidman), one of the biggest stars in the world, and titled the movie Italia. The sets are being constructed, the costume being designed, although no one even knows what time period the movie will take place in. Guido is stuck going to press conferences, dealing with his producers, his costume designer (Judi Dench) and everything else involved in the movie, but he doesn’t want to. Not only that, but his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard) is getting fed up of being ignored, and his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz) wants more attention as well. Then there is Stephanie (Kate Hudson) an air headed American reporter from Vogue who seems to have no idea what his films mean, but loves them for all the style.

All of these characters have at least one song, where they bare their soul, and various body parts. Day-Lewis is probably the weakest singer of the group, his voice sometimes sounded more like Count Dracula than Italian. But in the scenes where he isn’t singing, and there are a lot of them, he is wonderful as a man in crisis, who doesn’t know what he wants. Cruz is sexy and seductive as Carla - her number “A Call from the Vatican” is one of the sexiest musical numbers I have ever seen. But as the movie progresses, she becomes more than just tits and ass. Kidman’s role is tiny, but her number “Unusual Way” is perfection. She captures her Brigitte Bardot role just about perfectly. Hudson has another time role, but she again does it wonderfully well. Best in show is obviously Cotillard as Luisa. Her two musical numbers, the sad lament “My Husband Makes Movies” and the angry, burlesque number “Take It All” are the heart of the movie. She takes the role of the wronged wife, and breathes new life into it. She is utterly perfect.

Directed by Rob Marshall, in the same style of his earlier Chicago (musical numbers on stage, the rest in “actual” locations, the film has a distinct look and feel. Dion Bebee’s excellent cinematographer creates a number of iconic images. The film is an ode to the movies of Fellini, and they at least some of the visuals right.
Overall, I enjoyed Nine from beginning to end. Every scene works unto itself. I don’t think the movie ever really coheres into an overall artistic statement. It is a movie of moments, not of a complete picture. When the moments are this good, it’s hard to complain.

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