Beautiful women in Nine, the Road less taken

by Mark Burger

Beautiful women in Nine, the Road less taken

by Mark Burger contributing columnist

The year 2009 had a preponderance of high-proile ilms with the word “nine” in the title. There was the animated feature 9, the sci-i sleeper District 9 and now Rob Marshall’s big-screen version of the Tony Awardwinning Broadway musical Nine.

Based on Federico Fellini’s Oscarwinning 1963 art-house smash 8′, Nine follows ilmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he embarks on pre-production for his latest ilm, to be shot in Rome. The 1960s are in full swing, and Guido is swinging right along with them. He’s overwhelmed by the media attention surrounding his new ilm — which, incidentally he hasn’t yet written — even more so by the women in his life, both past and present.

These include Marion Cotillard as his adoring but long-suffering wife, Luisa; Penelope Cruz as his impetuous mistress, Carla; Nicole Kidman as his leading lady and screen muse Claudia, who’s requesting to see the screenplay that Guido hasn’t written; Kate Hudson as flirtatious magazine correspondent Stephanie; and Judi Dench as Guido’s costume designer and conidante Lilli. In lashbacks, there are Sophia Loren as Guido’s mother and Fergie (nee Stacy Ferguson of the Black-Eyed Peas) as the earthy prostitute Saraghina.

Among the ladies, Cotillard and Cruz have the most screen time, but Nine is very much a showcase for its leading man. Following in the footsteps of previous Guidos Raul Julia (the original 1982 production) and Antonio Banderas (the 2003 revival), it’s a pleasant surprise to see Day-Lewis playing a lighter screen character than he has in many years. That’s not to say that the role is a lark, or that the Day-Lewis treats it as such, as he has to dance and sing (with an Italian accent, no less) as well as combining comedy with pathos in the role.

Everyone has their own big number, and although the song lyrics aren’t the most memorable or profound, presentation is everything here. The transitions between the musical numbers are where the film’s momentum sags, although it’s hardly the fault of Day- Lewis (an appropriately roguish yet charming and neurotic protagonist) or cinematographer Dion Beebe, who always keeps things picturesque. The lusty, leggy, high-proile bevy of babes who parade across the screen never fail to engage the eye, if not always the soul.

Nine isn’t always a great movie — sometimes it comes dangerously close to not being a very good one — but it is always a great spectacle, with high-octane star power and a genuine aim to entertain. It is high-gloss, high-class eye candy in which presentation supersedes content.

Presentation also outweighs content in director John Hillcoat’s The Road, the long-awaited (and nevertheless weighty) screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, post-apocalyptic saga — only the visual ambience here is anything but attractive.

It’s never made clear what caused civilization to collapse, but collapse it has — taking with it all but the heartiest souls, some of whom have resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee portray a father and son, identiied only as “Man” and “Boy,” who traverse the treacherous terrain in search of a safe haven they’re not certain even exists.

One would hardly expect The Road to be visually appealing, but cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe has gone above and beyond — or perhaps below and beyond — to create a landscape that is particularly foreboding. Day or night, this an ugly and seemingly hopeless world. Only when Man and Boy come across an old fallout shelter does the ambience become even remotely cozy — and it’s in a deserted, underground bunker.

Aside from the notunexpected and fairly blunt metaphors about man’s inhumanity toward man, the drama hinges almost entirely on the father/son relationship, and it’s there that The Road does manage to elicit a worthy emotional response, thanks in large part to the sympathetic chemistry between Mortensen and young Smit-McPhee.

Along the way (along the road, if you will), there are brief encounters with Robert Duvall, Michael K. Williams, Guy Peace and Molly Parker, while Charlize Theron appears periodically in lashback as Mom, who takes an early powder when all seems lost. Some viewers may wonder what took her so long, but others will undoubtedly admire the craftsmanship of the ilm, which is noteworthy in its grime and grunge.

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