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Swearengen Tamed: Ian McShane plays an affectionate father in 'Nine Lives.'

L.A. Women

Rodrigo García connects the dots in multipart 'Nine Lives' about women on the emotional edge

By Richard von Busack

LONGTIME EXPERT Rodrigo García (see Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, as well as Ten Tiny Love Stories) gives us the dernier cri in connect-the-dots filmmaking in Nine Lives. He directs nine filmlets, lashed together with titles projected on a pocked, ivory surface—the shell of an ostrich egg, lit by colored patio floodlights? Single-named women endure quietly or go noisily to pieces amid vainglorious performances by their menfolk: William Fichtner plays a deaf person begging for sex in sign language; from a wheelchair, Ian McShane pantomimes diminished capacity.

Fans of Deadwood love McShane's evil old-Western businessman Al Swearengen, the perfect embodiment of business ethics during the Bush II years. Here McShane plays a persistently affectionate father. That his daughter—the "light of the house"—floats around in an unusually low-cut shirt adds the edge of what they call "inappropriate attention" to her father's pestering. It's an edge I'm not quite sure García senses. As the daughter, Samantha, Amanda Seyfried also practices catty-corner acting: previously she was a splendidly moronic blonde in Mean Girls. Now she's college-bound, intelligent and self-sacrificing. But this movie is a cavalcade of against-the-grain acting: Jason Isaacs as a nice guy, Glenn Close as a doting mom.

There is almost something started in two of these nine episodes. Sissy Spacek plays Ruth, an older woman on the verge of an affair. Dignity wrestles with need as she is led to the motel room by her transcendentalist lover (a well-fed Aidan Quinn). On the way in, he gazes at the night sky: "That's the same moon Jesus saw—and Buddha and Mohammed!" (With that in mind, say something memorable like those three would have, instead of carrying on like liquid-soap tycoon Dr. Bronner.) This scene—illuminated by Spacek sitting, sad and tiny, on a polyester bedspread—is matched by Kathy Baker's typically acid and intelligent acting as an angry mastectomy patient to be. Her Camille wrestles with a hospital bed, while her helpless husband, Richard (Joe Mantegna), tries hopelessly to soothe her.

On the contrary, Lisa Gay Hamilton's daughterly meltdown, complete with gun brandishing, is as overdone a 10-minute stretch as we've seen this year. Rushed, shot with a vertigo-inducing minicam and visually dank, Nine Lives' "only connect" philosophy would be easier to feel if these stories were only connected: really connected in mood and theme and meaning, that is, instead of hooked up with cameo appearances by the characters from the other eight episodes.

This kind of exercise is considered very serious in L.A., considering the incense burned on the altar of Crash. But compared to some Iranian contenders, including Ten and The Circle, Nine Lives is skin deep. It's like a ride in a car with a bad transmission—it keeps stalling and starting. The film urges us that "we are all moths circling the same light," but this one is hardly worth bursting into flames about.

Nine Lives (R; 115 min.), directed and written by Rodrigo García, photographed by Xavier Pérez Grobet and starring Sissy Spacek, Glenn Close and Ian McShane, opens Friday at selected theaters.

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From the October 26-November 1, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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