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Roman Polanski's supernatural thriller starring Johnny Depp.

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Scribe and Hunters

  • Jun 28, 2011
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Those most conspicuous qualities of Polanski's unfairly maligned pan-European adventure invites comparison to his classic Rosemary's Baby. Adapted from novels concerning obsession with satanic ritual and invocation, both films challenge the pertinence of the horror rubric. Although the mephistophelian transgressions of Rosemary's Baby are couched in a topic of maternity, The Ninth Gate ventures a cryptic, circuitous route through a preoccupation more abstruse than it ought be: bibliophilia.

Scarcely faithful to its source material (Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novel The Club Dumas), The Ninth Gate's narrative pertains ultimately to the pursuit of a personal connection with the famed Dark Prince, yet its myriad diversions invariably communicate the perspectives of dedicated collectors and literary cognoscenti immoderately fascinated with codices. Johnny Depp's cunning Dean Corso is certainly as unethical a trader of printed material as one might dread to encounter, but his admiration for those historical and technical aspects of volumes rare and exquisite is rooted in an affection for these tomes that intimates an enthusiast's purity of captivation.

Boris Balkan (played with imperial elocution by Frank Langella) is an affluent publisher, lecturer and collector of literature who's cultivated an unparalleled interest in Luciferian writings. He commissions Corso to investigate two alternate copies of a seventeenth-century satanic text (loosely based on early Renaissance allegory Hypnerotomachia Poliphili) that he's obtained, so to authenticate it by dint of collocational examination. Evidently, this uncommonly rare volume is intended to conjure Beelzebub, and hasn't yielded its owner's desired results. Balkan surmises that his copy may be a postiche, and that one or both of two others in prestigious collections privately held in Portugal and France is the genuine article.

Polanski devotees anticipating the Polish filmmaker's earmark paranoia may be disappointed to find it here attenuated, though by no means absent. Alternately amusing and engrossing, The Ninth Gate's as cleverly plotted and sedulously detailed as exciting, containing a modicum of its director's usual prefigurations and indulgent casting. As always, the cinema veteran exploits his gifted principal histrions to their optimal potential; in the lead, Depp's cool reserve as library sleuth is contrasted with that of a malefic, seemingly omnipresent Langella and graceful Emmanuelle Seigner as Corso's mysterious, uninvited, apparently preternatural companion. Lena Olin's snarling turn in the role of a wealthy, libidinous, underhanded widower is of especial distinction, as is erstwhile Stratford/Old Vic fixture Barbara Jefford as a haughty, crippled Teutonic baroness whose enviable literary collection yields a few startling revelations.

Visually, it's surely one of Polanski's most opulent movies. Darius Khondji's lush, subtly lit cinematography accommodates leisurely, almost casual camera direction comprised largely of deliberate zooms and pans. Polanski retains viewer attentiveness to these proceedings without resorting to gimmickry. Composed by his compatriot Wojciech Kilar, the score boasts elegant variations on an ominous, memorable theme, and a gorgeous vocal sung by soprano Sumi Jo in its closing reprise. Francisco Sole's woodcut engravings - fabricated to furnish Pérez-Reverte's novel with illustrations - impart a Renaissance verisimilitude to the infernal coveted volumes.

Invariably panned upon release by critics who expected terror, shocks and suspense, a compelling protagonist and explication withheld by the implicit epiphany of its denouement while stupidly misinterpreting Polanski's distinctive black humor, The Ninth Gate does deliver an effective few jolts, but any hope that Americans might embrace a picture proffering mere intimations of erudition were dashed by its apathetic stateside reception. Polanski's professional deportment evinces an indifference to genre conventions...alas, in this instance, that nonchalance didn't translate to box office success.

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July 17, 2012
I have with the Count. I enjoyed this movie very much. A true occult drama done with the utmost care.
June 28, 2011
I loved this film.
June 28, 2011
Unique, this - one of those few that Americans laughed at, without realizing that it's intentionally funny. Polansky's black humor was appreciated here in the '60s and '70s, but no longer.
More The Ninth Gate reviews
review by . December 23, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
The Ninth Gate DVD cover 1
Controversial director Roman Polanski (Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown) has a talent for creating suspenseful films that utilize character actors in roles, which allow them to be ambiguous and amorphous. In his thriller, The Ninth Gate, he returns to the genres he seems to be the most comfortable with: psychological suspense, and horror. Loosely based upon the book El Club Dumas, which was written by acclaimed Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Ninth Gate is a straightforward …
review by . May 02, 2009
The Ninth Gate (1999) was Roman Polanski's return to the horror genre. This tale takes place in France and it stars American ex-patriate Johnny Depp. Former mac daddy Frank Langella, Lena Olin and Polanski's hot wife Emmanulle Seigner co-star as well. An investigator of sorts (Johnny Depp) is hired by a rich collector (Frank Langella) to search for a rare and possible demonic book. Lena Olin is a rival collector and occultist who wants the book for her own personal gain and Ms. Polanski is Depp's …
About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan ()
Ranked #30
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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About this movie


Based loosely on the novel "The Club Dumas".
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Director: Roman Polanski
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Horror, Supernatural, Thriller
Release Date: August 25, 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Roman Polanski
Runtime: 133 minutes
Studio: Canal+, Artisan Entertainment
First to Review

"An Incendiary Thriller"
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