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Overall Rating

Awesome: 3.57%
Worth A Look42.86%
Average: 25%
Pretty Bad: 3.57%
Total Crap: 25%

4 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Nine Lives (2005)
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by Jay Seaver

"Just good enough to overcome being a gimmick movie."
4 stars

How can you tell the difference between a "real" independent film that manages to snag some well-known actors and a studio project that gets released under the "classics" banner? I'm guessing that one way would be to look at those actors' interviews with the media. As much as an independent filmmaker may be able to convince, say, Glenn Close to work for scale as a favor to a friend, that's not going to get her to take a break from other commitments to do interviews. That's why a movie like "Nine Lives", with its very impressive cast, is able to come and go almost completely unnoticed (if it even came to your town at all).

Of course, part of the reason you don't get the stars doing press is because this film doesn't have a real lead to push. It's a sort of anthology film, nine segments that each follows a woman for ten or fifteen minutes before moving on to a different character's point of view. Some of the stories overlap in obvious ways; others share characters but place them in incongruous situations. The last story appears to be entirely self-contained. If there's a single premise that unites the segments, it's that love is a responsibility, and sometimes even a burden, as well as a source of joy.

The film has a couple dozen speaking parts, but the nine main characters give their names to chapters. Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo) is a prison inmate trying to keep her nose clean so that she can see her daughter. A pregnant Diana (Robin Wright Penn) bumps into an old flame in the supermarket. Holly (Lisa Gay Hamilton) frantically comes to the house she grew up in to confront her father. Sonia (Holly Hunter) visits friends with her boyfriend. Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) serves as the intermediary between her disabled father and disconnected mother. Lorna (Amy Brenneman) goes to a funeral where many mourners do not welcome her. Ruth (Sissy Spacek) meets someone who is not her husband at an anonymous motel. Camille (Kathy Baker) is admitted to the hospital for surgery. Finally, Maggie (Glenn Close) and her daughter have a picnic in a cemetery.

Connection-wise, the most central character is Holly; she appears in two other segments and it is during hers that we first see that these vignettes are all taking place in the same story-space. Well, either that, or writer/director Rodrigo Garcia is re-using actors to encourage those of us in the audience to make connections and try to see this as something more than an anthology; certainly, films like Four Rooms and Robot Stories have given indications on-screen that their parts are tied together without really connecting things thematically or story-wise. Ruth's story, though, greatly benefits from being tied to two others, even as Maggie's benefits from being isolated.

Garcia's storytelling is good enough that I initially didn't notice what is arguably the film's biggest gimmick: Each segment consists of a single tracking shot, all roughly ten or twelve minutes long (Well, I noticed the equal lengths from the noise of the projector switchover which only came between segments). It's a tricky game to play; there's no splicing shots from different takes together or allowing a certain segment more room to breathe if it needs it - I'm thinking of the "Lorna" story, here, which is, I think, completely isolated from the other stories but could requires the audience to assimilate a lot of information. It does serve a purpose, though - it equalizes these characters in importance, along with the audience. We're not placed above them, able to get the angle that tells us the most at any moment, and the pregnant suburbanite is not given more importance than the woman in prison. We're given slices of each character's life - equal slices, as it were.

The cast is, as mentioned, pretty remarkable. In addition to the chapters' title characters, Dakota Fanning, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Molly Parker, and Aidan Quinn are among the recognizable supporting characters. The performances are all very good: Lisa Gay Hamilton gets the flashiest; her character is on the verge of collapse, so she gets to have the most tics and mannerisms. Glenn Close works the opposite end of the scale, giving a performance that is suggests familiarity and calm. Midway between are Robin Wright Penn, who along with Jason Isaacs gets the best dialog to work with as a pair, and Amanda Seyfried, who does a nice show of frustration and distraction feeding each other.

I don't know if any of these stories could work as a feature; what we see are little, private dramas. The short story seems to be Garcia's specialty, though, and he does pretty well with those.

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originally posted: 01/25/06 13:12:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/08/07 Tiffany Losco I found it boring and didn't make any sense. A waste of my $$ Dakota fanning is great! 2 stars
5/08/06 Joe Smaltz probably should have tried to watch it all, but it was borrrrrring! 1 stars
4/20/05 Krisan Graves Better than i expected from Paris... 3 stars
12/10/04 Danish White A great inssight into the many frustraations a modern-day woman can face. 5 stars
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  14-Oct-2005 (R)
  DVD: 14-Feb-2006



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