Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Fergie, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren.
A Tony award winning play, Nine was loosely inspired by Fellini’s 1963 classic 8 1/2, his acerbic semi-autobiographical work about a director struggling to realise his vision on the screen. It is widely regarded as the best film ever made about the making of a movie. However, this adaptation somehow lacks its greatness. Written for the screen by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, Nine is occasionally witty in places, but for most of its duration it lacks spark.
Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis, replacing Javier Bardem) is a legendary Italian filmmaker, although his last two films have been spectacular flops. On the eve of his latest film though Contini is suffering from a creative block. He has no script. His long time producer is growing increasingly anxious and the press is circling. Contini draws inspiration from both his childhood memories and the many women in his life – his wife, his tempestuous mistress, his leading lady, his dead mother, and his long time costume designer and confidante.
In adapting the play for the screen, choreographer turned director Rob Marshall seems unable to break away from the theatrical origins of the material. Marshall previously gave us the wonderful Oscar winning Chicago, but where that film soared, this one falls flat. The songs do not break out from the screen, which is one of the film’s main failings.
The impressive cast includes no less than six Oscar winners, each of whom gets to belt out a tune with varied degrees of success.
Marion Cotillard (from La Vie En Rose, Public Enemies, etc) is wonderful as Luisa, Contini’s long-suffering wife who grows tired of his wandering ways, and she injects some raw emotion into her performance. Penelope Cruz gets the juiciest role as Carla, Contini’s sultry and sexy mistress, reluctant to remain in the background, and she is superb Judi Dench is solid as Lilane, Contini’s chain-smoking costume designer and conscience. Dench also gets to belt out a song – she was the original Sally Bowles for the London stage production of Cabaret after all – and her husky voiced is perfectly suited to Folies Bergere, her homage to the glory days of vaudeville theatre.
As the whore who teaches the young Guido the facts of life, Fergie (from the Black Eyed Peas) gives a wonderful and powerful rendition of the show stopping number Be Italian.
However Nicole Kidman is largely wasted as the legendary star of Guido’s movies, and Sophia Loren does little more than lend her formidable presence to give the film gravitas. Day-Lewis seems miscast in a role that requires him to sing and dance, and he never really convinces as a tortured film director either. Kate Hudson plays Stephanie, a sexually voracious journalist. Her song Cinema Italiano is a flashy and contemporary original song, created specially for the film, and is not in keeping with the mood of the rest of the film.
Nine was lavishly filmed on a soundstage at Rome’s fabled Cinecitta studios and its production values are first class. Cinematographer Dion Beebe worked on Marshall’s previous two films and his fluid black and white sequences here capture Fellini’s style. But Marshall’s direction is unusually pedestrian, and his juggling of the black and white flashback sequences, the fantasy sequences, and the colourful but stage bound musical numbers is occasionally clumsy. The stage show has good credentials, but this film adaptation of Nine is major disappointment.