Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Nines - a review

In the opening sequence of The Nines, we see hands braiding three green threads together--and so does writer/director John August weave together three seemingly dissimilar stories (albeit using the same three actors) playing with metaphysical ideas and philosophical themes of identity and origins and the creative process.

But this is not a heavy, dark, ploddingly introspective piece. The Nines is quick and sharp and surprisingly funny. It's part mystery/thriller, part dark comedy and part ensemble drama. The three leads, Ryan Reynolds (Gary/Gavin/Gabriel), Hope Davis (Sarah, Susan, Sierra) and Melissa McCarthy (Margaret/Melissa/Mary) really get a chance to show off their acting chops as they play a different character (or do they?) in each of the film's three sections. Part one is titled The Prisoner and tells the story of Gary (Reynolds), a hot TV actor in the midst of a personal meltdown, Margaret (McCarthy), the PR agent whose job it is to prevent his self-destruction and Sarah (Davis), the next-door neighbor who may be Gary's salvation or damnation.

In part two, titled Reality Show, Reynolds does his best John August impersonation as Gavin--a video game obsessed, intellectual, geeky TV writer. Now, I don't know John August personally. I only know of him from reading his blog--but I bet he'd agree that Ryan's performance was SPOT ON! Melissa McCarthy plays Melissa McCarthy and Hope Davis plays Susan, the network development executive.

Gavin's TV show, Knowing (pitched as "Rosemary's Toddler") from part two is the title of part three and the elements of the fictional pilot come to life with Reynolds playing Gabriel, a video game designer, McCarthy playing his wife Mary, and Davis playing Sierra, a stranger (or is she?) Gabriel meets while out hiking. Playing with reality vs. fiction, the creator vs. his creation and the recurrence of the number nine, August takes the audience on quite a journey. At the Q&A after the screening last night (which was WAY too short!), he described the script and the story as "his brain splattered against the wall." And so it was--but the film, like Lynch's dreamscapes for example, is not just about the author's intent but also the audience's interpretation. And there's a lot to ponder and puzzle about with The Nines. If you've seen it and you're still puzzling, August has set up a website and forum where viewers can discuss the film and get insights from the filmmaker.

It was a rare treat to be able to experience the writer's vision exactly (or as close to exactly as humanly possible) as he intended it--and to have him available after the screening for questions. That's one of the reasons I was excited to see the film. Like fellow A-list screenwriter Scott Frank, who made his directorial debut with The Lookout last year, August was also content with his "written and directed by" credit--eschewing the "a film by" vanity credit. Although, according to one of the film's producers, August's contribution went far beyond writing and directing. The Nines is his creative vision come to fruition and he is certainly more deserving than Brett Ratner or Michael Bay of the "A Film By" credit.

But kudos to him for not taking it. And for his tireless and generous efforts in maintaining his informative and entertaining blog. When he asked the audience if there was anyone who read his blog, quite a number of hands went up--including mine! Based on the turnout for Friday's screening, The Nines is off a great start. Hopefully its success will bring more directing opportunities for the talented writer/director--as well as great future roles for the film's stars.

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