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By Bob Westal | January 30, 2005

“Nine Lives” is composed of nine separate stories, each shot in a single take, each named for the leading female character, each vaguely (sometimes very vaguely) related to the other stories. Several of the segments end on emotional cliffhangers.

Written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia (“Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her”), “Nine Lives” is no stunt. The camera work by Javier Perez Grobet never calls attention to itself – in fact, I actually had no clue the movie was composed of unedited takes until I began looking through the press notes. Unfortunately, the first third of the film is marred by a tendency to be morbidly serious and overly dramatic.

The good news is that, story by story, the tone slowly changes to something more humorous, gentle and low key. “Nine Lives” single-take conceit obviously makes this very much an actors’ movie, and the film employs a strong cast of some of the most underused thesps around. It’s a major pleasure to be reacquainted with Mary Kay Place, Joe Mantegna and Sissy Spacek – all of whom should be working a lot more than they are. Other stand-outs include Holly Hunter and Stephen Dillane as a prickly couple having their “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” moment, Miguel Sandoval as a compassionate prison guard with a rocky, probably abusive, past, and young Amanda Seyfrid as a level headed teen with less level-headed parents.

By the films concluding story, featuring Glenn Close and Dakota Fanning as a mother and daughter contemplating the grave of a diseased loved one, “Nine Lives” has become a worthy, sweet-natured meditation on life and death. It’s definitely worthwhile for fans of edit-free cinema and good acting.

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