Nine Lives


Nine Lives Review

A well-cast compilation film suffocating on its own self-importance, Nine Lives aims to tie together nine vastly different stories, but ends up telling hardly any of them well. The conceit of writer/director Rodrigo Garcia is to take nine vignettes, each centered around a different woman (usually in desperate circumstances), and give us a brief glimpse into her life before cutting away to the next one, while stringing a few connecting threads between them all. To ensure that he's not playing favorites, each piece is done in one single Steadicam shot and kept to only nine or ten minutes in length. A minor character from one vignette becomes a major player later on, or vice versa. As in literature, anthology works like this are a hit-and-miss affair, and in this case the misses far outnumber the ones that connect.

Nine Lives opens strong on Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo), an imprisoned mother. Mopping up a floor, she's threatened by fellow prisoners, and harassed by a guard (Miguel Sandoval) who's convinced she can give him information. Everyone tells Sandra she's not going to make it, but you think she just might be able to, hunkering down turtle-like and just plowing through the rest of her sentence. But then her daughter visits, and the phone doesn't work, sending Sandra into a stunning explosion of rage, like a mother bear kept from her cub. It's a short, unrelentingly powerful story, and done by itself it would stand as a sublime little tragedy. The same goes for the final piece, in which Glenn Close and Dakota Fanning (hardly a better match could be imagined) visit a cemetery and talk with sublime ease about not much at all. But then comes the rest of the film in between.

In short order we're given Robin Penn Wright as another mother, this one expecting, who runs into an old lover at a supermarket, Amy Brenneman playing a carefree woman at the funeral of the wife of her ex-husband, Holly Hunter getting upset with her boyfriend for telling too-personal stories to their uncomfortable guests, and so on. Even when the writing moves beyond bourgeois pathos - as is the case with a painfully overacted story where a manic Lisa Gay Hamilton confronts her father for some traumatizing transgression from the past - Garcia is rarely able to get inside his character's heads in the span of time he's allowed them, and the ways in which he'll shoehorn an actor from one piece into another never adds anything and seems to be just showing off.

Little here is the actors' fault, as Garcia has finagled himself (for the most part) an astoundingly talented cast who acquit themselves well, especially the previously mentioned Carrillo, and Deadwood's Ian McShane, playing a wheelchair-bound father hiding his infirmity behind a wall of black humor. But by the time viewers have reached the fourth or fifth story, however, restlessness is likely to set in, as it becomes clear this is a film hurtling slowly towards nothing, with little to keep one interested along the way.

Live through this.

Nine Lives

Facts and Figures

Run time: 115 mins

In Theaters: Friday 2nd September 2005

Box Office USA: $0.1M

Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures

Reviews 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 63 Rotten: 21

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew


Starring: as Damien, as Diana, as Lorna, as Sandra, as Samantha, as Sonia, as Rebecca, as Richard, as Maggie, as Maria, Aomawa Baker as Female Guard, as Deputy Sheriff Ron, Mary Pat Dowhy as Nicole, Andy Umberger as Second Male Guard, as Marisa, as Sandra's Daughter, as Vanessa, LisaGay Hamilton as Holly, as Martin, Daniel Edward Mora as Receptionist, as Lisa, as Ruth, as Larry, as Dr. Alma Wyatt, as Roman, Pat Musick as Mourner / Night Manager, as Andrew, as Paul, as Henry, as Camille, Amy Lippens as Nurse