The Ninth Gate

on March 10, 2000 by Tim Cogshell
   Even before director Roman Polanski's new film "The Ninth Gate" opened, there was a negative buzz--not helped any by the ill-boding lack of press screenings. This is unfortunate, because though it's not a crowd-pleaser, "The Ninth Gate" is certainly not a bad movie by any means. In fact, it's quintessential Polanski, in the vein of "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby," though Alan Parker's "Angel Heart" may make the best analogy. It's dark, mannered and occasionally very creepy. What it isn't is "Stigmata" or "End of Days," two recent Hollywood forays into apocalyptic themes involving heaven and hell whose bombast may have put audiences off the genre.
   Johnny Depp is Dean Corso, a rather unscrupulous rare books expert who is employed by millionaire collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to find and authenticate a mystical text called "The Book of the Nine Doors to the Kingdom of Darkness," reputed to hold the key to conjuring Satan. As Corso begins his investigation, people start dying and weird things start happening. He is suddenly being shadowed by a mysterious woman (Emmanuelle Seigner of "Bitter Moon" and "Frantic) and is stalked, robbed, beaten up and drawn into a plot that is much larger than he can bring himself to believe.
   This is a very European film, which means it's too long (over two hours), very talky and resolves ambiguously. But it is engaging and well-executed. Johnny Depp excels in character roles; grayed temples, spectacles and quirky habits suit him well. Screenwriter John Brownjohn (who scripted "Rosemary's Baby," among other Polanski films) manages to keep his story coherent, which the two previously mentioned Hollywood films couldn't seem to muster. The obscure rural and urban settings in France and Spain are thoroughly enjoyable and composer Wojciech Kilar's score manages to set just the right mood.    Starring Johnny Deep, Frank Langella, Lena Olin and Emmanuelle Seigner. Directed by Roman Polanski. Written by John Brownjohn and Roman Polanski. Produced by Mark Allan, Antonio Cardenal and Roman Polanski. An Artisan release. Thriller. Rated R for some violence and sexuality. Running time: 127 min.
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