Nine marshals all the tricks of filmmaking to transport you to a fabulous swinging 1960s Italy.
Make no mistake, Nine is a musical. It is a dazzling Hollywood spectacle of a musical. Spending two and a half hours pondering a genius's mid-life crisis has never been more entertaining or sexier.
In order for the movie to work, the audience must have immediate buy-in to Daniel Day-Lewis's characterization of Guido "The Maestro" Contini. The Maestro is a vaunted but world weary Italian film director about to embark upon his ninth film in a matter of days. He is at a personal tipping point about to fall over the edge. Will he or won't he is the story's central question.
The problem? The Maestro can't find the story to animate his new project, Italia. As the clock ticks and the ever-hounding paparazzi eagerly track whether or not Maestro Contini will begin the film's production on time, we follow Contini's manic escapades as he flits between the women in his life and the women of his imagination. Why should we care about him? Contini is an over-indulged man-child possibly given too much credit for being the 'voice' of a generation and the spokesman for Italian cinema. Yet, Contini is a magnetic figure who personifies the angst, anguish, and magic any artist endures to find their voice. In Nine, Contini's problem is his meteoric success as the savior and voice of Italian cinema. The world's expectation of what Contini's singular voice will utter next has left The Maestro speechless.
While this may sound like a heavy or feel bad topic, Nine is a story ideally suited to the musical. Musicals exist in the imagination of desire. Nine's director, Rob Marshall, has found a way to tap into that nexus of spectacle, imagination and emotion by collapsing time and space; Marshall conjures all the tricks of filmmaking to transport you to another world in the blink of an eye. Not only does Nine exist in an idealized and cinematized 1960s Rome, but Marshall depicts Contini's flights of fancy by hurling everything at us: the sunny Italian coast, an ancient and mythic Coliseum, Contini's childhood Catholic school strict upbringing, uncanny re-enactments of Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita scenes, black and white, grainy color, saturated Technicolor, and the list goes on.
What gives Nine its traction is Marshall's ability to find song and dance performers in unlikely actors. In Chicago, Richard Gere and Renee Zelwegger were more game than anyone could have imagined. Nine brings us Daniel Day-Lewis. His transformation into an aging, raffish, lanky Italian hipster who communicates in English with an Italian accent is astonishing. Daniel Day-Lewis is a genius at his craft. We all know this. It's a boring thing to say, think or write, but there it is. Yet, his ability to surprise never stops. Just when you think you've got a fix on him, he takes an unlikely turn and reveals new depths of his range. And so he does with his role of Guido Contini. In Nine, Day-Lewis appears to be having the most fun he's had in years.
The cast is impeccable, breathing and dancing life into their broad characters. Penelope Cruz, brings depth to here role as Carla in what easily could have been a throwaway role. Kate Hudson in a small but memorable role, channels a worldly American journalist who loves the go-go Cinema Italiano culture Contini has offered to the world. Marion Cotillard, as Luisa Contini, delivers a powerful performance and is the emotional center of the film. It is her role in the Maestro's life that gets the most play, and delivers the biggest punch.
One could make the argument that the Hollywood musical is back. Maybe not in the numbers of its heyday in the early decades of last century, but this millennium has seen a resurgence to be sure. And while I can't say I've ever been the biggest fans of musicals as a genre (save for the stray early Disney animated film and Baz Luhrmann's perfect Moulin Rouge), I, for one, am glad they're back. I say, keep them coming.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times