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 mystery/conspiracy with supernatural elements. The screenplay written by Enrique Urbizu, Roman Polanski, and John Brownjohn, greatly simplifies the novel, which was deemed too complex and plot heavy to film in its entirety. However, in spite of this harsh adaptive process the film is quite impressive, though it may be a disappointment for fans of the novel.
Dean Corso is an unscrupulous bibliophile and book appraiser, who specializes in rare and highly valuable books. When he is contacted by billionaire Boris Balkan to verify the authenticity of the satanic volume, The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, by seeking out the only other two existing copies. Balkan claims that he purchased his copy from a man named Telfer who committed suicide the day after he sold the book. Corso goes on a mercenary quest that takes him through Europe and he crosses paths with some very strange and unsavory characters. He has a shallow sexual encounter with Telfer's wife, Liana, who desperately wants the book back. Corso also has repeat encounters with an enigmatic and beautiful stranger, who seems to show up whenever he needs help of some sort. Corso soon learns that she is not what she seems. It becomes apparent that Corso is being closely monitored by Boris Balkan, who calls him repeatedly to demand updates on his success, and it's also apparent that Liana Telfer has sent her lethal bodyguard after Corso and the book. While examining and comparing the different copies of the book, Corso stumbles onto a secret. There are subtle differences in the book's illustrations, which serve as symbols or keys to conjuring the Devil, and Corso realizes that all three copies are legitimate but only with all of the illustrations can one understand their true meaning. As people around him start dying, Corso finds himself caught in the middle of a deadly diabolical conspiracy. He soon learns that some books are dangerous, that some mysteries should never be solved, and that some doors are better left unopened.
Stylistically, The Ninth Gate has much in common with 1940s film noir, as well as the more sophisticated horror films of the `60s and `70s. The film is very reminiscent of Roman Polanski's other films and yet it never feels redundant or predictable, which in itself is unusual when you consider the genre that he's working within.
The film is boosted by a terrific score by Wojciech Kilar, and the combined efforts of the production designer, the costume designer, and the cinematographer. But the film's greatest asset is Polanski's uncanny ability to tell a sensational story while allowing the audience to suspend disbelief.
The Ninth Gate features a superb cast, which includes Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, Frank Langella as Boris Balkan, Lena Olin as Liana Telfer, and Emmanuelle Seigner as The Girl.
The DVD includes an audio commentary by Roman Polanski, an isolated music score, a featurette, a gallery of satanic drawings, storyboard selections, production notes, cast & crew bios, theatrical trailers and TV spots.
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. … more
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 … more