Nine Days

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Nine Days
dir-scr Edson Oda
prd Jason Michael Berman, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Laura Tunstall, Matthew Linder, Datari Turner
with Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgard, David Rysdahl, Arianna Ortiz, Perry Smith, Geraldine Hughes, Lisa Starrett, Brandy Pitcher, Eric Ramaekers
release US 30.Jul.21
20/US Sony 2h04

wong hale skarsgard

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duke and beetz
Opening with a baby's birth, this artfully produced film ambitiously explores the meaning of life using an existential fantasy premise. Writer-director Edson Oda leans into some indulgent filmmaking, with achingly beautiful settings and rather insistent emotional resonance. The tone is moody and a bit slow, which makes the extended running time feel very long indeed. But there are strongly pointed observations along the way, and some very moving moments.
In an isolated house surrounded by video monitors, the godlike Will (Duke) watches videotapes of people through their own eyes, such as violin prodigy Amanda (Starrett). Will's friend Kyo (Wong) arrives with supplies to watch Amanda's concerto, but her life ends instead. To fill the vacancy, Will interviews six souls in a nine-day process that could lead to becoming a newborn. Candidates include the brooding Kane (Skarsgard), cheeky Alex (Hale) and artistic Mike (Rysdahl), as well as the inquisitive, free-thinking Emma (Beetz), who pushes Will to confront his own identity.
Thoughtful and enigmatic, the film is instantly intriguing largely due to its fanciful set-up. Will's interviews involve presenting each soul with a series of scenarios then gauging their reactions and sometimes pushing them further. And as he whittles down the field of candidates, he keeps thinking about Amanda. Meanwhile, Oda makes the film remarkably tactile, using water and sand, plus the quirky details of Will's yellow house on a vast desert. He also packs scenes with earnest emotions and questions about the meaning of life and death.

Most acting is muted, allowing the solid cast to dig into their characters in intriguing ways that reveal sensitivities. Aside from these feelings, it's difficult to identify with anyone on-screen. Even as the script explores each soul, they deliberately resist becoming fully formed characters. Duke's gravitas holds the screen, and he gets some terrific scenes along the way. Wong and Hale get sparkier roles that grab the attention, while Skarsgard stirs some earthiness into his interaction. And Beetz shines in the strongest character, as an astute thinker who challenges everything she sees.

Even with its darker and more humorous moments, the film has a romanticised viewpoint, framing happiness as sun-dappled nature, simple pleasures, smiley interaction and soft-focussed love between photogenic straight people. And the darker moments are just as clear-cut. The evocative and rather well-worn main idea is that these everyday details should never be taken for granted. More provocative is how, for the candidates, even considering the basic realities of life is often overwhelming.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Jul.21

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