Directed By Edson Oda
Starring – Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong
The Plot – Will (Duke) spends his days in a remote outpost watching the live Point of View on TV’s of people going about their lives, until one subject perishes, leaving a vacancy for a new life on earth. Soon, several candidates, unborn souls, arrive at Will’s to undergo tests determining their fitness, facing oblivion when they are deemed unsuitable. But Will soon faces his own existential challenge in the form of free-spirited Emma (Beetz), a candidate who is not like the others, forcing him to turn within and reckon with his own tumultuous past. Fueled by unexpected power, he discovers a bold new path forward in his own life.
Rated R for adult language
– Profoundly invigorating. For a first time writer and director, the work of Oda as a storyteller is decades ahead of its time, in terms of both thematic depth and thought-provoking commentary. In this respect, “Nine Days” is one of the more alluring and unconventionally rich experiences that I have had with a film in quite some time, expanding centuries of theories and pre-conceived notions with a plunge into creationism, self-worth, appreciation of life, and so much more that we as an audience can take from the interpretation of its characters. It’s a very abstract concept, but one that’s not entirely difficult to maintain and follow along with because of its grounded execution, cementing Edson as a masterful storyteller whose underlining poignancy in material fleshes out a greater sense of purpose and sentimental gain that his audience can take and apply to life, long after they’ve left the engagement.
– Exceptional editing. Not only is the visual storytelling conveyed with a level of crisp, smooth-flowing clarity between arc’s of five different characters running simultaneously with one another, but it also helps to convey a greater sense of tragedy within the confines of its repetition. This is presented in each of the five candidates that Will interviews over the course of titular nine days in the title, as they sift through various questions, where one character will begin the scene, and then the transition in editing will spring a new character in the original’s place. This helps tremendously with saving time and repetition of each question being asked five different times, but beyond that supplants these smooth paths for the overhead dialogue to flow immersively, making this feel like one continuous conversation that is made all the more somber when you consider that only one of these candidates will be deemed special when compared to the others.
– Performers piece. While the heft of its material does more than a satisfying job of tying the meaning of the film together, it’s the work of Duke, Beetz, and Wong that help elevate it to a whole other level. For Duke, it’s another spell-binding and transformational performance, bringing to life Will with a reserved demeanor and circumstantial heft in responsibility that he bares with burdened shoulders. For Beetz and Wong, I believe it’s my favorite performances from both of them, but for entirely different reasons. For the former, it’s the childlike innocence and adventurous ambition that she affords Emma that is a satisfying breath of fresh air for the dynamic of personalities afforded to the film, and for Wong it’s the grounded humanity fleshed out in a role that is most evidently the good cop to Duke’s straight-laced no-nonsense one that is free of grief for never living in the real world. Each of them are carefully stirred ingredients to the commentary of the film that satisfies without ever feeling spoon-fed, all the while churning out layers of convention-breaking depth that help to see each of them in beneficially new light.
– Sparse details. To anyone who reads my work often, you’ll know that I love and appreciate the small visual details assorted through any film that helps convey a greater context to what would otherwise serve as a typical scene of exposition. In this respect, “Nine Days” has some of the best that I have seen in quite sometime, ranging in everything from an uncorked bottle of beer that one character decides against drinking, to defunct wall clocks that are quite literally stuck on the same time throughout the movie. There are of course many others, but nothing that I care to spoil for audience interpretation. Instead, I will say that Oda proves himself worthy of a hands-on director with every element of production and set design that speaks volumes to a bigger picture, and helps to sell both the world-building and lived-in appeal of this place that may or may not be world’s and light years ahead of the one we call home.
– Alluring cinematography. There’s much to unload and appreciate about the artistic integrity of claustrophobic interior and wide angle exterior compositions that adorn some of these beautifully serene backdrops decorated throughout the presentation. Blessed with the vibrancy of blues, yellow’s and pinks of the never-ending desert at its disposal, cinematographer Wyatt Garfield weaves an intoxicating fabric to the designs of the movie’s imagery that more than elevate the out-of-world experience that the script’s themes conjure up before our very eyes, giving us a never-ending feeling of existence and isolation that flourishes the vantage point from Will’s ivory tower of endless television screens. While inside, Garfield moves swiftly throughout many rooms and tight corners with the kind of fluid movement that mentally dissipates the limitations of a camera moving freely throughout them. It chooses to never sacrifice style to its bountiful substance, giving us radiating textures that luminate in the backdrops of the movie’s visual capacity without overstepping its boundaries in indulgence.
– Emotional resonance. Simplicity is key when it comes Antonio Pinto’s violin-dominated musical score, which brings an appreciation for subtlety for the way it is incorporated to the dynamic of the scenes. For one character in particular, the layering and influence allows it to feel like a weapon of deeper meaning that only they can shape and shift to mirror their emotional evolution, and one that only we the audience can be rewarded by. There’s enough diversity in tempo’s and varying instrumental accompaniment to keep them from ever feeling repetitive, and the restraint in the production’s sound mixing keeps the music from ever feeling melodramatic in the way it keeps from influencing the integrity of the scene in a meandering kind of way.
– Unpredictable. I have to say that I’m more than surprised when comparing where I thought the movie would resolve itself with where it actually did. This is of course for the better, as not only is Will’s decision one that I truly wasn’t expecting, but also the ending of the film wrapping itself up during a sequence that is openly ambiguous. This surely won’t please everyone, but for my money it spoke volumes to the open-ended appeal of real life, where not everything is satisfyingly resolved, and sometimes people just don’t receive clarity from the conflicts that they’re forced to endure every single day. With all of this, it’s somehow satisfying without truly hindering the appeal of the way each audience member will capably interpret it, wrapping Will’s arc with the kind of resounding epiphany that we the audience can read and feel for the way he chooses to live life through his own eyes for the first time, instead of someone else’s.
– Periodic nitpicks. While nothing that was terribly compromising to the integrity of the experience, there were a few problems in the consistency of clarity that temporarily left me detached from the narrative. The first is with the plodding movement of the movie’s first act, taking a bit longer than I expected to get the rules of the realm established for audiences to capably interpret. Because of such, it really wasn’t until the second act when I became exceptionally invested in what was unraveling, making for an initial introduction that I wish was slightly more compelling with how we’re introduced to Will and this ensuing world. From there, I also spotted a couple of plot holes with the rules established that directly contradicted everything that was previously illustrated in a scene from only minutes earlier. Nothing that was laughably obvious to the experience, but present enough to really make you scratch your head during a resolution. Finally, the world-building and concepts of Will’s job as a whole left slightly more to be desired, especially in the lack of fleshing out the how and the who with the balance of the why and where that the movie became enamored by. It makes me wish the script took more opportunity with its near two hour run time to illustrate those important details, especially the ones requiring interpretation to plug in the noticeable gaps.
My Grade: 9/10 or A