At first, I wasn't sure if it was a stylistic choice to complement the whole setting of this movie being at the bar - and its use of flashbacks for storytelling, or if it was a lens issue, or perhaps some effect being used in the post-production process, but there's really not a whole lot of clarity goin' on when it comes to what we experience in "Nine Ball." I'd put my money on stylistic choices out of all those options, though; it seems like many different ideas, approaches, and methods are being employed to tell this tale we see onscreen. The question becomes whether the slightly distorted visuals end up making "Nine Ball" a degree or two less watchable for the average everyday viewer out there, which, to be honest, it might. I certainly hope people stick with it, though, because "Nine Ball" has a really vivid story.
That being said, "Nine Ball" has some terrific advantages to it that could potentially push past any perceived obstacles that would stand in its way on a visual level. As we watch the crew of friends playin' pool night after night together, the dialogue proves to be a massive strength in the film, and they've got some solid acting in the mix for you as well. In particular, you might notice some fairly heavy hitters in the bunch, like Kenny Johnson ("The Shield" / "Bates Motel") & James Ingersoll ("Olympus Has Fallen") – both of whom end up playing the same character Nicky in the film at different stages of his life. Other names like Allen Schneider (Doug), Eugene Williams (Bob), and Steven Benjamin Wise (Cooper) also do noteworthy jobs in their roles, but that's honestly true of just about everyone you'll see, regardless of the visual distortion. The dialogue between characters and storytelling is exceptionally natural, just like you were sitting in on someone's conversation while you're at the bar, hearing friends recount their glory days from the past. I've always been a big fan of Johnson's work, so admittedly, that helped draw me in – I've watched every episode of "The Shield," and he was a major part of why I felt like "Bates Motel" worked as well as it did. Dude's always had shorter hair in what I've seen him in prior; I actually wasn't completely sure it was Johnson at first, but for real, you can't mistake that voice he's got for anything other than the original article. I also really loved how the older version of Nicky can be seen in many shots of the tales of his youth - like he's right there in the room watching his life unfold before his very eyes or even interacting with his friends from back in the day – all great ideas.
We get lots of stylistic attempts at enhancing this story, from slow-motion shots to sped-up scenes, quick cuts, and even important scenes with strobe lights flashing. What we see in the present day is shown to us in black & white, as opposed to the past being shown to us in color – which I liked too, usually that's done the other way around in most films that follow a couple of timelines. While I might be a bit critical of the clarity of what we see, when it comes to the concept and how writer Donald Jarman and director Victor Bevin chose to tell this tale, and their crystal clear vision considering how much booze is flowing around this movie. It's an interesting film when it comes right down to it… we're basically riding with Nicky through multiple recounts of an important night in his life that attempts to piece together what really went on. Anytime you get a film that is going to show us a story in this kind of way, dialogue becomes genuinely crucial, as does the acting involved.
If anything, I felt like these two elements of "Nine Ball" were so strong that I ended up questioning whether or not this movie needed to try and do things differently on a visual level. Tricks, techniques, and effects are great for all the Marvel movies and whatnot, but when you've got a great story in a great Drama, I'd say it's very arguable that practically no effects are needed whatsoever. I feel the same about movies as I do about songs with effects added into them – if it's something that the moment is calling for - that truly enhances the experience, then right on. If it doesn't, or even if you're on the fence about it, chances are you should keep it simple and leave the effects out of it. So I'll admit – I was really torn about the look of "Nine Ball" – the storyline is fantastic, the dialogue is stellar, and even the way that it's filmed is spectacular too on a shot-for-shot basis. Still, it's really hard to argue on behalf of a lack of clarity when it's an aspect of this movie that ends up rolling through the whole thing.
This film has tried something different, and I respect that, even if I'm not nearly as convinced that it worked and/or didn't hold this movie back more than it should have. Sometimes you're running the table, and sometimes you scratch – but to me, it's always better to have tried something than to not and wonder what it might have been like if you did. "Nine Ball" is very much saved by the cleverness of its storytelling & the acting of its ensemble cast, and regardless of the fact that I felt like it was visually hampered from getting the most of its potential, the reality is, Bevin's got a knack for this kind of thing, for sure. He's done a lot with a little here – whether it's the way the story is told - or the many things he's tried stylistically in these shots we see on the inside the bar, he's attempted to create a lot more than just a regular run of the mill Drama, and again, I've got a lot of love for that. Not that he'd need my advice, but the best I've got for him is to be as objective as possible and simply make sure that what we see onscreen is a solid match for where the strengths truly are. In the case of "Nine Ball," it's the characters and the dialogue which probably would have paired more strongly with simple clarity, in my opinion. Having said that, it's directors like Bevin that are willing to take chances and shake things up from being normal into something different…I have no doubt that, in the long run, that's the kind of artistic courage that pays off.
So if it sounds like I'm complaining, don't get me wrong, I'm not. I'm more than happy to give "Nine Ball" a solid four stars out of five, and I'd readily admit that for what could have been a very straight-ahead Drama, Bevin smartly leaned on the strengths of his cast - also add in some great writing to get the excellent results we experience overall. Despite its visual setbacks, I think he's really overachieved here & surpassed any expectations I could have had. "Nine Ball" scores a significant win for great storytelling, without a doubt.