The Ninth Gate (1999)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Arturo Perez-Reverte (Novel); John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu, Roman Polanski
Studio: Artisan Entertainment
The Ninth Gate is a strange little puzzle of a film, and that may turn some viewers off, but it would be to their great loss. Based on the novel “El Club Dumas” by Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Ninth Gate follows the exploits of rare book dealer Dean Corso (Johnny Depp), who is known as something of a bastard in both his profesonal and personal lives.
Hired on by eccentric bibliophile Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to authenticate his recently purchased copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, a heretical text rare enough that of the three known to be in existence, only one is assumed to be authentic. Corso is charged with comparing Balkan’s texts to the other known copies, to prove which is in fact the authentic copy. This would sound more or less like a lukewarm film if not for one caveat: The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows is known in legend to have been written by the Devil himself. Nine engravings in the authentic copy are meant to be pieced together and used to summon Satan himself.
Faced with an all expenses paid trip around Europe and a huge sum upon completion of the task, Corso is quick to take on the job, but just as quickly finds himself embroiled in something far beyond his understanding. Chased after by Balkan’s book’s former owner’s widow, played by Lena Olin, as well as a mysterious blonde (Emmanuelle Seigner) with unknown intentions, Corso is fighting a battle against the unknown throughout the film, leading to a surpring concluon that seals this film as truly one of the best.
There is little to be said about Johnny Depp in this film than has been said about him in every other he’s been a part of. Film fans tend to fall into two camps regarding Depp, either loving his work or desping it, and my own opinion on the matter is of the more potive bend. Depp plays the role of Corso, an oddly likable bastard, to perfection. One of his more subtle performances, Depp ealy is the lynchpin of the film, drawing together all the elements and carrying it well even through what could seem boring scenes spent flipping through antique books.
Langella’s part in the film is minimal though done well, and Olin’s merry widow hits all the high notes, but Emmanuelle Seigner as the mysterious nameless woman adds equal parts mystery, intrigue and seduction that give The Ninth Gate the feel of a noir film.
Be warned -- this is a film you may want to watch a second time, to catch up on everything you realize you missed. It is an intelligent, almost cerebral film that is a hallmark of horror played to the mind rather than the senses: not much here in the way of gore. That being said, don’t be scared off by thinking it too complicated or not worth the trouble, because misng this film would most definitely be misng out.
The novel it is based on, El Club Dumas, is worth a read as well, but be warned: written in Spanish, the English translation can seem a little off at some points. If you can read it in the original language, that would be your best bet.