REVIEW: ‘Nine Days’ Is A Hopeful Film Commanded by a Masterful Winston Duke

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Nine Days

Brazilian American director Edson Oda’s feature film debut Nine Days is an astonishing piece of cinema that not only announces the arrival of a major voice in the industry but also provides smart reflections about life and pushes for feelings of hope and joy in these dark times.

In a house in the middle of the desert, Will (Winston Duke) spends his time watching the lives of a certain number of people, through their own point of view, on old TV screens. He takes notes of every person and records specific parts of their lives in VHS tapes. Suddenly, Amanda – one of his favorite subjects to watch – dies in a car accident that looks like suicide. Will is shattered because he personally chose her to be born.

Will was once alive and now uses that experience to fulfill his task of selecting souls to experience life. The film follows him as he ponders over the potential of nine souls throughout nine days. It’s an interview process in which they have to observe life through the TV screen, take notes and answer tough questions involving concentration camps, bullying, and empathy. With the aid of Kyo (Benedict Wong), he carefully watches and evaluates their attitudes, answers, and words. He is trying to expose their every flaw to know if they are ready for the tough challenges that await them on Earth.

These potential souls include Anne (Perry Smith), Maria (Arianna Ortiz), Mike (David Ryshdal), Alexander (Tony Hale), Kane (Bill Skarsgard), and Emma (Zazie Beetz). Everyone has different attributes and personalities, but it’s Emma who catches Will off guard with her positive attitude and refusal to answer some of his questions. But most importantly, she tries to discover what hides behind Will’s outbursts, self-loathing, and resistance to embrace kindness. What happened during his life that made him like this?

Will’s soul is being crushed by the apathy, violence, and evil of humanity. He refuses to select a kind soul because he knows it’ll get swallowed by the bleakness that grows on Earth. The death of Amanda, fresh in his head, reinforces his doubts and distrust in goodness. “I send flowers, and others send pigs to eat them!” he yells. 

The film could’ve been a pretentious philosophical essay about life, but Edson Oda’s script brims with creativity and intelligence; it doesn’t try to be preachy or manipulative but to portray the best that humanity can produce and celebrate the gifts of life through a grounded concept and a magnificent execution. It’s sci-fi of sorts that doesn’t need a big budget or a full explanation of its world to shake your core.

The potential souls are deeply moved by the life experiences they watch on the TV screens. They have their own richness and stories that, in turn, help forge Will’s powerful arc. Oda uses an introspective approach to develop his story and characters, always pushing you to think about the joys of life. To achieve this, he’s supported by tremendous artistry around him.

Antonio Pinto’s score is a masterpiece; the music has a profound beauty that captures the soul of the film and elevates feelings of despair, joy, sadness, and hope. His work for Nine Days will stick with me for a long time.

The cinematography of Wyatt Garfield is as engaging as gorgeous. He captures the desperation of Will’s heart through claustrophobic shots but also uses the desert landscape to give a larger-than-life dimension to the limbo. Very important too is production designer Dan Hermansen whose work with Garfield to create the last wish “moments” scenes are an emotional jaw-dropping tour-de-force.

And of course, we have the acting. The energy and joy that Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) provides to the film is contagious and perfectly encapsulates the story’s spirit. Benedict Wong (Gemini Man) is such a reliable actor. Here, he does a great job in his supporting role as a counselor and friend, constantly worried about the state of Will; his character does tend to disappear, which can be disappointing.

Winston Duke (Us) will floor you with his best performance to date. As Will, he’s an imposing figure that exudes quiet sadness. The intimidating force he displays with sudden roars is a sharp contrast to the heartbreak in his attentive eyes. It’s a complex role of a man with a broken soul struggling with the concept of hope. Duke commands this role all the way until the unforgettable last seconds of the film.

Nine Days is an invitation to believe in hope, to trust in the powers that use love and kindness to fight against the dark hole of selfishness and evil that is sucking the life out of this world. Edson Oda has crafted a breathtaking ode that engrains in your brain and refuses to leave for days, even weeks after watching it. 

Nine Days will open in select New York and LA theaters on July 30. It will expand nationwide on August 6.

Nine Days
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Nine Days is an invitation to believe in hope, to trust in the powers that use love and kindness to fight against the dark hole of selfishness and evil that is sucking the life out of this world. Edson Oda has crafted a breathtaking ode that engrains in your brain and refuses to leave for days, even weeks after watching it.