Louis Drax is “celebrating” his ninth birthday in a coma in the hospital. He had a near fatal fall off of a cliff while picnicking with his mom (Sarah Gadon) and dad (Aaron Paul). Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan), a psychologist specializing in pediatric coma treatment, is brought in to try to bring back “The 9th Life of Louis Drax.”
For all of his young life Louis has been accident prone. He divides these accidents in two categories: big accidents and small accidents. The big accidents are the ones where he ends up in the hospital. His mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon), is always there for the boy and stays by his side, waiting for Louis to awake. Dr. Pascal is sympathetic toward the troubled mother and they begin spending time, and more, together.
“Louis Drax” moves between the present, with Louis and the repercussions of his latest accident, and flash backs to the boy’s life with his mother and his stepdad, Peter, an ex-boxer forced to give up his career when he married Natalie. Louis is a troubled kid whose many accidents finally culminate with his near-fatal fall and into the care Dr. Pascal. The doctor spends many hours a day with unconscious Louis, trying to get into his mind.
There is more to this hospital drama, though. It is also a well woven mystery about Peter, who went missing the day of Louis’s accident and, thus, a suspect in the boy’s fall. The screenplay, by Max Minghella adapting the novel by Liz Jensen, keeps you guessing what’s what while also keeping in focus Louis, his coma and, through hypnosis – in a complex scene involving the boy, Allan and Louis’s former child psychologist, Dr Perez (the always entertaining Oliver Platt) - get into Louis’s mind.
“The 9th Life of Louis Drax” is a nicely constructed story that flows smoothly between its drama and its mystery, never bogging down in one or the other. The characters are all fully developed and young Aiden Longworth – who has quite the filmography for a 12-year old – is strangely fascinating as the titular character. He is a strange boy who, as Natalie describes him, is unlike other kids. This lends a supernatural quality to the film that adds to the mystery/drama. I give it a B+.
As a young child (Aiden Longworth, "Hector and the Search for Happiness") falls from a cliff, he tells us of the many accidents that have befallen him during his brief life. The accident prone boy had a lighting fixture drop from the ceiling crushing his crib as an infant and suffered electrocution and countless episodes of food poisoning during his first eight years on earth. Child neurologist Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan, "Fifty Shades of Gray," "Anthropoid") is determined to see "The 9th Life of Louis Drax."
Liz Jensen's novel was originally optioned by Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient") back in 2008, but since his death, Minghella's actor son, Max, has taken up the cause, adapting his first screenplay and taking on production duties. Max pulled in French director Alexandre Aja ("High Tension," "The Hills Have Eyes") for a fruitful collaboration. This medical mystery kissed by the fantastical and supernatural is a hybrid high wire act but Aja maintains balance.
This strange little film begins like "Amelie," with its montage of Louis's mishaps, then turns into a ghost story of sorts, Louis surviving his fall but in a coma. His distraught mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon, "Indignation") is a constant presence, reading and talking to her son, attracting the attention of the male species like a queen bee, their protective chivalry cloaking lust. As Louis's dad, Peter (Aaron Paul, AMC's 'Breaking Bad'), hasn't been seen since his son's accident (which took place during a family picnic celebrating his ninth birthday) and is a prime suspect, Detective Dalton (Molly Parker, "Kissed," HBO's 'Deadwood') pops around, looking, like Pascal, to shed some light on a mystery but, unlike Pascal, impervious to Natalie's charms.
Another investigative slant comes from Dr. Perez (Oliver Platt, "Frost/Nixon," "Chef"), the psychologist Louis visited for a few months who began to suspect the child was deliberately causing himself harm. 'Fat Perez,' as Louis calls him, has a relaxed, bantering approach, but his services are stopped. Perhaps he got too close to the truth. There's also the deep booming advise from the sea monster Louis met when he plunged into the ocean, one that remains in his comatose consciousness. Dr. Pascal begins to fall under a hypnotic connection with the child, and during the first incident, he follows a trail of seaweed...
Water is a constant in the film, director of photography Maxime Alexandre ("The Hills Have Eyes") at one point depicting Louis's plunge into water upside down, an approach which merges the sea with his mind (Pascal's coma ward is encased in bowed glass, looking out over water). There is a pivotal trip to SeaWorld, Louis's fascination with Jacques Cousteau indulged by dad. Aja's fluid approach to tone also includes the sinister, a layer of Longworth's performance which keeps us off kilter (his 'right of disposal' speech to Perez in which he details a pet owner's right to kill foreshadows his ninth birthday gift from dad, a hamster named Rasputin III).
Aja's unusual little film stands out with its unusual structure and gemlike visuals of cooly green forests and shimmering blue seas. If the film has a fault, it is the relative ease in figuring out its central mystery, but "The 9th Life of Louis Drax" is an unusual and innovative adaptation.
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