Saturday, December 26, 2009


After having received a number of requests to review this one as soon as possible, I am fitting this review in after a very, very satiating Christmas dinner. Ignore what some critics say about Rob Marshall's NINE, they are idiots and probably don't appreciate musicals to begin with.  This film is just perfect.

Right from the moment the film opens with Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido Contini in the midst of a press conference, I was drawn in to what would turn out to be a nonstop glam-fest.  Day-Lewis is pitch-perfect as Contini, based on a character created by Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini from his masterpiece .  Some critics are insisting that NINE unjustly pays tribute such a great director's work and his own creative struggle, but quite simply, this is not a Fellini biopic.  Contini is Contini and quite frankly 8½ is available out on DVD if people are that adamant about authenticity and honouring Fellini.

Throughout the film we learn about Contini's character through the women who have played a pivotal role to his identity and success in life.  I'm not saying he is likable though - he in fact is egotistical, self-centered, uncommitted and dishonest.  The magic of Day-Lewis' performance under Marshall's direction, is that despite all of these negative qualities, we are still drawn to him.

Inasmuch as I'd like to say that Day-Lewis truly is the star of this film, the attention often diverts to Oscar winner Penélope Cruz, who once again is getting a lot of buzz here for her performance as Carla, Contini's mistress. And who ever would have guessed that Cruz had the ability to nail complex Burlesque choreography and sing decently, as she does performing A Call From The Vatican?  She is captivating as a seductress and there are few actresses in Hollywood today who can do "emotionally unstable" with the level of control that Cruz does.  Although I was never much of a fan of hers before Volver, I think I am finally completely sold now. 

I am also enamored by Marion Cotillard's turn as Contini's neglected beautiful wife, Luisa.  Yes, she is not much of a vocalist, but one cannot help but love her nonetheless.  Many of the songs in NINE are interspersed with choreography and dialogue, which deflects attention off some of the less stellar vocal performances.  Cotillard can communicate a lifetime of hurt through her eyes alone and on her delivery of My Husband Makes Movies, I could not help but tear up and I'm certain I wasn't the only one in the theatre sniffling. Late Anthony Minghella's script however, doesn't give her enough range to work with though as  the film's leading actress, whereas Carla gets much more to work with.  I would say the same also of Nicole Kidman's character Claudia, Contini's starlet muse whose character isn't fleshed-out enough for us to fully understand an apparent romantic back story between them.  Above this, the song Kidman was given,  Unusual Way, was completely out of her range.  To be frank, she sounded awful.

The biggest surprise in NINE is Kate Hudson's performance as American reporter Stephanie.  I was absolutely blown away by her runway delivery on the flashy Cinema Italiano, written specifically for the film by Maury Yeston.   Stephanie is significant in that it is one of the few moments in the film where we become fully cognizant of Contini's directorial brilliance in her sheer admiration. Otherwise,  the focus is on Contini as an adulterer who ironically has no direction in his own life as a director.

And who could forget the brilliant Dame Judi Dench as Contini's confidante/costume designer Lilli? Who would've guessed that she could transition with such ease into Parisian Cabaret mode on Folies Bergère?  Black Eyed Peas' Fergie, exceeds all expectations with her versatility playing prostitute Saraghina from Contini's child in signature number Be Italian

NINE is a film driven by its dazzling performances rather than plot.  It is a show; a spectacle.  The meticulous art direction is astounding and by the time Contini does find inspiration and clarity once again, you don't want the film to end.  The audience is rewarded handsomely with a memorable grande finale, before being left with a final frame of Contini ascending above the studio on a crane victoriously.  Marshall's body of work in only three films is already heads and shoulders above other more seasoned directors.  I loved CHICAGO and Memoirs of a Geisha.  I am however, in love with NINE a lot and will definitely see it again.  Grade: A+

To read my review of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to NINE, click here.

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