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‘9 Bullets’ (Blu-ray review)

If 9 Bullets were a larger film it would be a disaster, as it stands it is merely a mess.

Shocking tonal jumps, a bizarre mixture of feel good cliche and post-Tarantino crime hokum, and performances from actors that seem as lost as the audience must be.

The poster for this film promises a revenge thriller, the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” opening credit signals a saccharine morality play, the film attempts to be both and is neither.

This is the worst film I’ve seen in ages.

Chief among its mortal sins, 9 Bullets wastes a starring performance from Game of Thrones’ Lena Heady, one of the most charismatic and thoughtful actors from that program. Here she plays Gypsy Moon, a burnt-out burlesque dancer who learns to live again transporting the child of her murdered neighbors who is being hotly pursued by a crime boss (Sam Worthington) who she has been sleeping with.

The reader may recall films like From Dusk Till Dawn or Bone Tomahawk which blend genre conventions in inventive ways and freely shift between genres with a delightful precision.

This is not that.

This film moves between sequences with transitions that are shocking, and not in a good way. It juxtaposes images and music in ways that go beyond simple ineptitude and seem like deliberate sabotage. A striptease section from Heady is juxtaposed with a solemn performance of “Silent Night”, a cute scene between Heady and the child she is transporting leads directly into one of the most surreal sex scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. Heady and Worthington temporarily act like they’re in an erotic thriller from the 90’s and discuss who will “leave the other wanting more.” The film then shifts back to pathos between Heady and the kid until we’re reminded that people are trying to kill them.

I cannot possibly conceive of who this film was created for. Its central plot recalls a recent thriller, The Marksman, with Liam Neeson right down to a few scenes which exist in parallel in both films. However, that film had the advantage of not having a Lifetime Channel erotic thriller bolted onto it which it continually returns to. I am as open to experimentation and movement away from traditional genre tropes as any thoughtful consumer of cinema, but we need narrative focus, thematic consistency, and characters who feel like people. This film has none of that: it’s bad enough when a film has characters who behave like their only motivation is to move the script forward, but these characters feel like they’ve been given a collection of scripts and alternate between them at intervals.

The director Gigi Gaston, seems to have filmed the entire picture with an eye for economy and speed. It looks like bad television in terms of cinematography, shot selection, art direction, and lighting. There’s a particularly egregious example early on when Heady calls the closest living relative of the child she’s transporting who turns out to be a Rabbi.

Picture in your head how you would visually signify a Rabbi in a cartoon and you have a close idea of what the scene looks like. I was shocked when the character did not utter the phrase, “Oy vey” when he found out his entire extended family had been murdered.

I previously reviewed a  “Chicken Soup…” production in this space, 2022’s Monstrous.

Whereas that film felt like a well-intentioned misfire, this time the cannon has backfired. I can appreciate the company’s desire to experiment and tell stories with moral worth that do not feel like sermons. This is more than understandable– it is commendable. There is no reason that Christian or spiritual films should not aspire to be great films in addition to being of spiritual use. This is not the way, though. They need to give their filmmakers the tools and time to make interesting looking films and they need to choose scripts that handle depth, complexity, contradiction, and texture with a light touch and not a 500 pound sledgehammer of plot.

9 Bullets exists, and hopefully there’s a lesson we can all learn from that.

1 out of 5 stars.


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