Written and directed by Edson Oda, Nine Days is a metaphysical film that follows a lonely man named Will, played by Winston Duke (Black Panther, Us), who is tasked with interviewing human souls and deciding which one will be given a chance to live. One soul in particular, Emma (Zazie Beetz), is an independent thinker who resists the tasks Will assigns and forces him to examine his own existence.
Winston Duke’s performance is the anchor that keeps Nine Days from being swept away in its own surreal current. Whether in movies, novels, or television, I’m a sucker for any creative work that explores loss in a thoughtful way. Though the plot of this film is centered on souls vying for a chance to be born, Will is also a man seized by grief. The film is as much about his journey to come to terms with his loss as it is about the possibility of life. Duke is one of those rare actors that can command an audience’s attention completely; even watching him sit in a chair and stare at a television is riveting because of the detail and emotion that has been put into every second Will is on screen. The result is one of the most heart-wrenching depictions of grief I’ve seen in recent years. Zazie Beetz also delivers a stunning performance as Emma, and Benedict Wong (Annihilation) is excellent as Will’s associate (and more optimistic foil), Kyo.
Visually, Nine Days is breathtaking. Cinematographer Wyatt Garfield creates an aesthetic feast that is intimate and immersive. Even when I felt the score and script were trying a bit too hard to elicit an emotional response from the viewer, the cinematography was never over-done. It manages to leave a profound impression without seeming like it’s trying too hard to do so – always a tough trick to pull off. Not only are there scenes that I know I will be thinking about for months, but the tenderness with which ordinary objects and places are rendered into beautiful works of art encourages the viewer to examine their own surroundings through a new perspective.
With a runtime just over two hours, Nine Days is, admittedly, longer than it needs to be. The performances and cinematography are compelling, but there are many places where I felt the film could have been more concise. I was never bored, but pacing issues and plot holes did occasionally pull me out of the experience. These issues aside, Nine Days is a stunning feature debut from a talented writer/director and features an outstanding cast. It is well worth a watch.
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