Based on Liz Jensen’s novel of the same name, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax was a project once in the hands of the esteemed director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley) before he sadly passed away in 2008. His son – and successful actor – Max Minghella then took it upon himself to finish what his father started, and penned his very first screenplay. The term passion project gets bandied around a lot nowadays, but this is emblematic of that description, and with a father-son dynamic at the core of the film’s narrative, it makes for a distinctly moving, if frustratingly flawed piece of cinema.
If Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) were a cat, he’d have used up all nine of his lives by now, being a child who spends nearly as much time in hospital as he does out of it. He pushes his body’s resistance to the limit when he falls off a cliff, crashing into the ocean and sending him into a coma. Surviving this incident is so unique that it alerts the attention of Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan) who wants to study Louis, to figure out how anyone could avoid death from such a fall. The doctor becomes engulfed in a complex situation however, enamoured by Natalie (Sarah Gadon), the beguiling mother of the victim, drawn into the mysterious set of events that led to Louis’s mishap, which resulted in the boy’s father Peter (Aaron Paul) going on the run as the prime suspect – because it appears this accident may not have been an accident after all.
Not for the first time, director Alexandre Aja has presented a film indelible in tone and atmosphere, but one that struggles to engage or compel in a way that it really should. It doesn’t help matters that Dornan, effectively in the leading role, turns in such a wooden display; and while proving his capabilities as an actor in Anthropoid, thankfully this performance is more the exception than the rule for the Fifty Shades of Grey star. The same can’t be said of Longworth, however, who impresses in the young actor’s biggest role to date; and he’s been written in an intelligent, effective way – given a very distinctive, idiosyncratic voice, while never overly simplified; talking in an articular manner without ever feeling as though the dialogue was crafted by an adult. The fact he narrates proceedings adds a certain charm and endearing naivety to proceedings, though the film does take a downwards turn when the ‘monster’ comes into play – as we enter into Louis’s sub-conscious, and while metaphorically it’s an emotive addition, it feels too surreal; not quite compatible with the narrative at hand.
But then that’s an issue that is jarring throughout the entirety of this picture, being a film that is attempting to balance a myriad of themes and failing miserably. The paramount romance between Pascal and Natalie takes centre stage for large parts, while we also have a whodunnit running right the way through proceedings, not to mention the relationship between Louis and his father. Perhaps this is a multi-layered film that will be enriched upon second viewing – the problem is though, there’s not quite enough about it to make you want to sit through it all over again.