Famous film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is about to start a new film - but he hasn't been able to write a single word of a script; he's creatively blocked. As he struggles to find inspiration and peace in his professional and personal lives, with occasional asides to his late mother (Sophia Loren) he finds his marriage to Luisa (Marion Cotillard) crumbling and his relationship with his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz) in turmoil. Even his star, Claudia (Nicole Kidman) is causing friction, while his producer, Dante (Ricky Tognazzi) fumes over the stalled project. His erstwhile costume designer, Lillian (Judi Dench) is the one rock solid supporter he has - and she's being very frank: get a grip.
Review by Louise Keller:
Penelope Cruz shaking her booty and Marion Cotillard giving her all as the wronged wife bring the dazzle and heart to this musical extravaganza, but even brilliant set pieces and an extraordinary cast fail to elevate Rob Marshall's Nine into a 10. It's a feast of song and dance, showy production numbers and an intriguing reality in which Daniel Day-Lewis' acclaimed film director Guido Contini, stuck for an idea for his new film, slides in and out of his own fantasies surrounded by the women in his life. Based on the 80s stage show, whose recent revival starred Antonio Banderas, the story is inspired by Fellini's seminal, autobiographical 1963 film 8 1/2, which finds the director in a professional and emotional maze of his own making. There is so much that is wonderful about this film about love and dreams, it is somewhat disappointing not to leave the cinema on a cloud.
Day-Lewis grounds the film firmly as the lean, charming, slightly stooped man wearing shades and for whom lies are like breathing. As he contemplates his writer's block, while pressure mounts around him, he sits alone on an empty set, which magically morphs into an explosion of choreographed razzamatazz, music and beautiful women in stunning costumes. Just like the film weaves in and out of soulful black and white, it also lures us in and out of the world of Guido's own invention - a beguiling mix of fact and fiction.
Everything comes alive when the sassy, curvaceous Penelope Cruz as Guido's mistress bursts onto the screen wearing a sexy pink and ink lace bustier with fish nets and heels; she is sensational, matched by her dramatic scenes. Marion Cotillard is all class and it is her beautiful eyes that convey the hurt her good Catholic wife feels (she is the only one of Guido's women to sing two numbers). Surprisingly, composer Maury Yeston's songs are not the type you hum along; the exception being 'Be Italian', which popstar Fergie belts out with great panache and sensuality. Judi Dench ('Directing movies is a very overrated job: you just say yes or no,') is great as Guido's confidante / costume designer Lilli. I like Kate Hudson as the silver tassle-wearing magazine journalist and the simple presence of screen legend Sophia Loren (let alone, her delivering a tune) is a treat in itself. Nicole Kidman is the only cast member who doesn't deliver.
The production design is fabulous as is Marshall's choreography which is genuinely exciting. Dion Beebe's cinematography works a treat and the Rome locations (and stunning views of the Italian Riviera) give great atmos. But there's something bumpy about the way the narrative spills into the production numbers and despite our affection for Guido and most of his women, the film is but a string of brilliant moments.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There isn't much to film directing, says the costume designer Lillian (Judi Dench) to a dispirited Guido (Daniel Day-Lews), he just has to say yes or no to a series of questions every day. As we all know, as does Lillian, that's an oversimplification, but she is trying to jolt Guido into creative action by gentle mockery. It's one of the jocular moments in an otherwise quite serious work examining a creative man in crisis. And not just with his work. There's his wife, his mistress, his producer ... and his leading lady.
Something of an homage to Italian movie maestro Federico Fellini, and more specifically to his famous 1963 film, 8 1/2 in which a troubled film director escapes from a similar crisis by retreating into his fantasies and memories, Nine remains faithful to the mid 60s era, but completely reinvents the subject matter. This is the latest incarnation of what began as an Italian stage musical by Mario Fratti, then was adapted for Broadway by Arthur Kopit (book) and Maury Yeston (lyrics); the screenplay for the film was written by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, to whom the film is dedicated.
The reason it has endured through all these forms is partly to do with the uniqueness of the original film, as well as the reputation of Fellini. But the real secret to its success is the suitability of the creative process to the examination of personal crisis, which draws together so many recognisable strands of human experience: self doubt, self image, honesty, loyalty, love, confusion ... yet it somehow doesn't soar as it should. Flat spots in the centre of the film dull our interest and the Claudia character, the film star, played by Nicole Kidman seems oddly flat and superfluous. That's partly because the musical numbers, inventively choreographed, do not always mesh with the core story.
Rob Marshall, whose last musical was the sensational Chicago (also superbly shot by Dion Beebe), has gathered an impressive array of talent onto his stage, and even managed to persuade Daniel Day-Lewis to sing (and dance a bit) - both of which he does well. But he lacks in the passion department; Antonio Banderas played the character on Broadway, and he might have done it equally well on screen.
This high energy, mostly vibrant musical comes with three (on my count) showstopper numbers: the throaty, ballsy, Be Italian (belted out by Fergie), the showy Folies Bergere (delivered with theatrical pizzazz by Judi Dench) and the raunchy, angry, Take It All (sung - if not hurled - by Marion Cotillard). Penelope Cruz does raunchy, too, in a bustier and assisted by swinging ropes ...
Rich and textured, the film is a triumph of design, a whirlwind of images and fantasies that defy logic - just as does the heart. But we don't jump out of our seat to applaud and cheer, as perhaps we'd like to.
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CAST: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren,
PRODUCER: Rob Marshall, John DeLuca, Marc Platt, Harvey Weinstein
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
SCRIPT: Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella (musical by Mario Fratti)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dion Beebe
EDITOR: Claire Simpson, Wyatt Smith
MUSIC: Andrea Guerra
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Myhre
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes