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Genre Music
Year: 2009

There are plenty of musicals that have found their niche on stage and film like Sweeney Todd, The Wizard of Oz, The Little Shop of Horrors and yes, even Grease. However, that doesn't stop me from cringing when I hear the word 'musical'. For heaven's sake, they're meant for Broadway not Hollywood... and if you're not examining the behind-the-scenes gravity like in Hamlet 2 or Every Little Step, then the only point of adapting to film is making the musical more accessible to those that don't live on Broadway.

Now I've seen Cats live and "live" on film. While Andrew Lloyd Webber made prancing felines in a dump yard seem like high-class entertainment, it still relies on full scale dance casts, lighting and musical vibrations that are no comparison on 2D film. The only time an on screen musical compels me, is when the spontaneous eruptions of sing-song are captured in a natural manner without a player looking skyward or into the distant horizon. Referencing Chicago in Nine's marketing campaign did not give me much confidence, it actually lowered my expectations.

Nine had a impressive line-up from the get-go: Fellini's 8 1/2 adaptation gave the material some credibility, Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha elevated the visual component, Daniel Day-Lewis's presence asserted the already strong cast of leading ladies including: Nicole Kidman, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson and Judi Dench. If there ever was a musical with the right tone and combination, Nine was going to be it. It was right! I was captivated by Nine, from its star line-up... performances, cinematography and art direction. This is what a film musical should be like.

Nine follows a famous film director, Guido Contini (Day-Lewis), as he tries to get to grips with his latest, pinned to be greatest, film endeavor. His personal and professional life are pulling the man apart from the seams and it seems that he has no other choice, but to confront his demons head-on. Unfortunately, this involves focusing all his dramatic attention and tension on all the leading ladies in his life: his wife, his mistress, his muse, his agent, and his mother.

The film has a terrific ensemble, who are surprisingly adept at making the transition from drama to musical. Nicole Kidman was in Moulin Rouge, but it's the rest of the ensemble that conjure up musical talents. One could argue Day-Lewis has conquered the Oscar depiction of what a great actor is with his Oscar-winning performances and repeat nominations over the years. This genre bender gives him a chance to stretch his repertoire to include musicals and he does so with a degree of hard-earned effortlessness.

Each of his leading ladies presents a different aspect to the man and a mutual dependence evidenced in his interactions with each of them. His role shifts from son, to lover, to husband, to director, to artist and back again... wrapping him up in a whirlwind of emotion as his procrastination and state of flux come to the fore. It's one of those self-referencing sort of films with a film within a film that only develops when Contini finds peace. He's like Hamlet as his pondering and nostalgia soak up the run time with musical interjections conveying mood and emotion.

Rob Marshall hasn't created a typical musical, which will disappoint a large contingent of traditional musical lovers. The sets are just as lavish, but the casting of Day-Lewis shows Nine's intention to set drama against musical. There's an excellent balance of the two as the art direction and choreography blends into the cinematography and drama in a romantic Italian fashion. While the relationship dynamics are fairly ambitious and scattershot, Day-Lewis still manages to keep a lid on things.

His main interaction is with Penelope Cruz, whose sultry vixen antics are given enough attention to have warranted an Oscar nomination. However, his other relationships are fragmented... giving each of the actresses limited time to create any sort of musical razzle-dazzle. The surreal element in Nine gives the whole film a quality, which moves away from the colourful, camp, glitzy surface value of other musicals. Most audiences will be torn by Nine's tightrope balancing act as it walks the line between musical and drama.

What it lacks in warmth, it makes up for in style and while you won't be tapping your foot to the range of musical numbers, you'll remember this ambitious production for its panache and slick visuals... a fresh, surreal musical suitable for people that prefer musicals where they should be... live on stage. 

The bottom line: Bold.


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