The Ninth Gate (1999) / Thriller-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for some violence and sexuality
Running Time: 133 min.
Cast:Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner
Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu, Roman Polanski (based on the novel, "El Club Dumas", by Arturo Perez-Reverte)
Review published September 10, 2000
The return of Roman Polanski, director of the classics Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby, after six years proves to be hardly worth the wait. His latest offering, The Ninth Gate, tells the tale of Corso (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dead Man), an unscrupulous rare book dealer who is hired by a wealthy businessman to complete his collection of satanic books by finding out if the crown jewel of his collection, "The Nine Gates and the Kingdom of Shadows", is authentic. There are only two others known in existence, and Corso must travel to the other two to compare books and see if there are any discrepancies. Rumor has it that the book is a puzzle, that when solved will unleash Satan himself.
I can't really fault Polanski much for the reasons as to why The Ninth Gate is an unsuccessful horror film. He does make it an interesting mystery throughout, with good cinematography and exotic locales. The problems of the film are multitudinous, the worst of which is the hokey plot itself, adapted from the Arturo Pérez-Reverte novel "The Club Dumas".
The actors are not particularly appealing, with co-star Langella (Small Soldiers, Junior) hamming it up, especially in the climactic scenes toward the end. The storyline makes little in the way of sense, ultimately culminating in a particularly unsatisfying last half hour that plummets the film from mildly intriguing straight down to the point of being laugh-out-loud bad.
To top all of this off, the very final summation will leave most viewers puzzled about why they wasted two hours of their life only to have almost none of the loose ends of the plot tied up by the time the credits roll. While the very final shots will do nothing but confuse most viewers, few among them will even care enough about the film to bother trying to figure it out. The Ninth Gate is an unfortunate misfire, unquestionably done at the hands of a master director working with a story that was D.O.A from the get-go.
©2000 Vince Leo