What an auspicious debut from director Edson Oda. The film starts with a man (Winston Duke of Black Panther) watching a wall of TV screens of people’s lives. I was thinking this was going to be a deeper Truman Show, and it certainly was.
Noticing he would watch VHS tapes of certain people, it made me think of the underrated film The Endless (made by two terrific San Diego filmmakers). They had videos because their cult in the desert was documenting things that had been happening from decades and decades ago. In NineDays, Will (Duke) is deciding which souls will go to Earth and live (which makes it a shame that Pixar gave us Soul last year, with a similar theme). Various people have to watch videos, write their favorite moments, and do various tasks to prove their worth. People get eliminated every day or two, and if you last the full nine days, chances are you might make it. It’s like a reality show produced by angels.
There’s something I find fascinating about a movie that deals with the future, or another world, and things have a primitive vibe. For example, there are a few very powerful scenes with recreations done. The way Will and Kyo (Benedict Wong) go through a junkyard to find things to build to recreate these...is just neat [side note: I’ve never used the word “neat” in a review before; I immediately thought of how Madonna made fun of Kevin Costner in a documentary when he told her backstage that her concert was “neat”].
There are a few things some might consider flaws in this story. For example, thousands and thousands of babies are born each day, yet Will is spending a casual nine days with a handful of people vying for one spot. I don’t need explanations for that, and I like the subtle aspects. Now, we see his modest house in the middle of nowhere, in what looks like a desert. Perhaps there are millions of people doing exactly what he’s doing -- choosing souls to be put into babies. We’re just seeing one “cog in the wheel” (as he refers to himself).
Although I didn’t think this was the most thought-provoking movie ever, it was fun to sometimes think about certain things relating to it. For example, if these people are talking about how they feel about the things they’re seeing, and explaining how they’d handle certain things (bullying for one)...what if that personality trait changes depending on what family raises them (nature vs. nurture, etc.)? Yet even that was sort of covered in one of the interesting side stories.
Aside from being moved by many of the things happening in this movie, I also smiled thinking of other movies this reminded me of -- two of my all-time favorites, in fact -- Heaven Can Wait (Warren Beatty) and Defending Your Life (Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep).
There’s also an incredible performance from Zazie Beetz (Deadpool, The Joker). One scene with her looking on in wonderment...she just knocks out of the park. It’s also enjoyable watching her give Will a hard time.
Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Veep) has an interesting role as a rather snarky and confident soul. And David Rysdahl is a caring, but troubled soul. Will seems to take a liking to him and his artwork, but isn’t so sure he’ll be able to handle how mean and hateful the world can be.
A side story involves Will and Kyo excitedly watching a soul they once picked, who’s a rather successful child prodigy when it comes to the violin.
I found the film predictable, and not quite as profound or thought-provoking as it thought it was. Yet it had enough to work, and it was helped nicely by a lovely score by Antonio Pinto, and gorgeous cinematography from Wyatt Garfield.
I’ll be looking forward to Oda’s second film.
3 stars out of 5.