“Nine Days” (2020) – “Our house is a very, very, very fine house.” – “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (1970)
Will (Winston Duke) lives in a fine house. At first glance, his place is a turn-of-the-20th century (or ballpark, a 1930s) one-story ranch coated with mustard-yellow paint, and a white-post fence decorates the front. Actually, this residence seems ordinary, but its chosen lot is a little bizarre. The abode sits on an ambiguous, desolate desert with distant nondescript granite mountains in the background, and a completely flat landscape of sand and dust immediately surrounds the homestead. No one will find cul-de-sacs, Targets, dog parks, or children’s birthday parties here. (This spot could be a few miles away from the I-10 freeway between Phoenix and Los Angeles. In reality, writer/director Edson Oda filmed his movie in Utah.)
The dwelling, however, is far from commonplace because. It’s mystical. Although no one observes traditional birthday parties with cake and favors, the events in Oda’s “Nine Days” could offer the possibilities for those particular future celebrations.
You see, Will interviews souls – who appear in person as everyday adult human beings – for nine days. As a one-person judge and jury, he decides if they should be born into the world.
Look, this man has a more important job.
Oda’s film features a small collection of characters, and it’s set in primarily one location, so it feels perfect for Broadway. Although, Oda isn’t a playwright. The man has nine short films on his resume. “Nine Days” is his first full-length feature, and it’s a beautifully crafted, deeply thoughtful story that confronts the human condition and a myriad of its aspects. He taps into several familiar personalities with his on-screen souls, and when watching them converse with Will, one can visualize friends or family. Perhaps, our co-workers are speaking.
Maria (Arianna Ortiz) could be Sofia, a sweet mom of two, from accounting.
Alexander (Tony Hale) acts just like Dale from sales, looking forward to happy hour and the weekend ballgame.
Mike (David Rysdahl) is Sam, the tech whiz from IT who spends much of his free time logging into work after hours.
Emma (Zazie Beetz), however, is a unique candidate and has a distinctly different relationship with Will, as she returns his curiosity with reciprocal interest. Through and through, Oda assembles a talented ensemble, including some virtuous moments with Benedict Wong, who plays Kyo, Will’s boss or colleague. Kyo and Will’s work relationship is a little vague. That’s by design, but there’s one hundred percent clarity that Wong’s character cares about Will’s well-being.
Even with many engaging supporting turns, “Nine Days” is Duke’s film. Duke stands 6’ 5” and is a towering on-screen presence, but Will is a gentle giant, an introspective and serene one. No telling how many years, centuries, or eons that Will’s been interviewing potential newborns. He intimately knows his craft, like a professor teaching Economics 101 every Fall and Spring semester for 30 years. Even though he has a little over a week to assess a candidate, he probably zeroes in on his decision within the first few minutes of discourse. (See also Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink”.)
The film’s narrative isn’t over in a blink. The 124-minute movie is a fairly straightforward tale – with sure, a supernatural concept – but it sways into Will’s backstory and further explores his connections with Kyo and Emma. Our lead has legitimate reasons for his stoic, fatherly mask, but some gentle, well-placed pushes from those within his orbit can peel away this thin veneer. In more pragmatic spaces, Oda spends sizable amounts of camera time on a couple of conventional, electronic living room objects. Still, emotional swells are tied to these devices, and they have vastly essential functions (that will not be revealed in this review).
Still, “Nine Days” isn’t a gadget movie. Far from it.
Without invoking a specific religion, it’s a spiritual one, a film that could appeal to anyone who has lived and breathed on the planet, and at times, it may be impossible to hold back tears.
Yes, Will lives in a fine house, but he makes it an extraordinary home.
⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Written and directed by: Edson Oda
Starring: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl, Arianna Ortiz, Bill Skarsgard
Runtime: 124 minutes
Images: Sony Pictures Classics