January 26, 2005
The Hollywood Reporter
Film review: Nine Lives
PARK CITY, Utah - Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia's Nine Lives is a bold film both in its storytelling strategies and its filmmaking logistics.
Here are nine stories focusing on nine women. Each is a snapshot, a moment in time from which audiences must infer the totality of that life. And each vignette is shot in real time. The camera never stops rolling in a single location.
Of course, some vignettes are more powerful than others. Sometimes the authorial hand is evident, but the sustained energy of each continuing tracking shot gives the film a pleasing dynamism, and most vignettes attain a beguiling poignancy. The film, which acquisition execs first saw at Sundance, should perform well in upscale specialty venues that attract college students and young professionals. The name cast is a huge plus.
In reality, Garcia's career has pointed toward Nine Lives all along. A self-described miniaturist, Garcia has gone the vignette route in each of his previous pictures – Things You Can Tell Just Tell By Looking at Her (five stories) and Ten Tiny Stories (10). This time each stands alone, though characters from one can drift into another, often in ways that cause you to re-examine the previous story. Garcia keeps you on your toes as new characters and dilemmas appear every 10-12 minutes. One forgets how infrequently movies turn into such an adventure.
The first episode introduces Garcia's theme. Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo) is in prison. Her only desire is to speak briefly to her visiting daughter. These women, Garcia declares, are all trapped by situations and predicaments in life, some of their own making and others out of their control.
Married and pregnant, Diane (Robin Wright Penn) confronts an old flame (Jason Isaacs) while on a mundane supermarket excursion. In her case, Holly (Lisa Gay Hamilton) wants confrontation with a stepfather who all but ruined her life – and it might be very messy.
A seemingly innocent social occasion turns into an unwanted True Confessions for Sonia (Holly Hunter). Teenage Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) becomes a human pinball, bounced back and forth between her wheelchair-bound dad and long-suffering mom, who don't much care to speak to one another.
Lorna (Amy Brenneman) unwisely attends the funeral of her ex-husband's wife only to discover her own inadvertent role in the woman's suicide. Ruth (Sissy Spacek) ventures from married life for a tryst in a sad motel. Unexpected comedy emerges from anxiety over imminent, life-altering surgery for Camille (Kathy Baker). Finally, Maggie (Glenn Close) makes an annual pilgrimage to a gravesite with daughter Maria (Dakota Fanning).
The rigorous ballet between actors and a crew operating the smooth Steadicam comes off without a noticeable hitch. Actors never break from character; indeed, nearly all show remarkable skill in how they move and out of precious moments of epiphany or insight. Garcia and cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet seldom wind up with an awkward frame or missed object. Each vignette has a wonderful flow.
There are minor flaws: The Sandra/prison sequence is inconsequential, the Sonia/True Confessions vignette feels contrived, and Maggie and Maria's cemetery visit is a tad skimpy. But it is in the cumulative weight of these small tales that the film achieves its emotional impact. Garcia has told you a lot about these women's lives using only the slenderest of story threads.
Cast: Ruth: Sissy Spacek; Diana: Robin Wright Penn; Sonia: Holly Hunter; Maria: Dakota Fanning; Maggie: Glenn Close; Camille: Kathy Baker; Lorna: Amy Brenneman; Alma: Mary Kay Place; Lisa: Molly Parker; Holly: Lisa Gay Hamilton; Samantha: Amanda Seyfried; Sandra: Elpidia Carrillo; Richard: Joe Mantegna; Henry: Aiden Quinn; Martin: Stephen Dillane.
Screenwriter-director: Rodrigo Garcia; Producer: Julie Lynn; Executive producer: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; Director of photography: Xavier Perez Grobet; Production designer: Courtney Jackson; Music: Edward Shearmur; Costume designer: Maria Tortu; Editor: Andrea Folprecht.
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