The Ninth Gate

by Alan Rapp on October 31, 2005

in Home Video

  • Title: The Ninth Gate
  • IMDb: link

Roman Polanski at his best gave us Chinatown and at his worst gave us PiratesThe Ninth Gate is a great suspenseful mystery as Johnny Depp is thrust into the world of the occult and dark knowledge.  One of Polanski’s, and Depp’s, best films.

The film opens with an older gentleman, Andrew Telfer (Willy Holt), just finishing his affairs one evening.  He then gets up from his desk and very matter of factly hangs himself from the chandelier of his study.  The camera pans to the books of his study for in this film knowledge can bring both power and death.

Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) deals in finding rare and expensive books, a book detective if you will.  His methods do not endear him to his competition as he will often sneak, lie, and trick his way into obtaining the object of his desire.  A very wealthy client Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) purchased Telfer’s copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows which was written in 1666 by Aristede Torchia before he was killed during the Inquisition for heresy and almost every copy was burned.

The book is a translation Delomelonicon rumored to be written by Satan himself supposedly acquired and translated by Torchia before his death.  Some believe the Nine Gates may contains clues on how to summon the Devil himself. Balkan now owns one of only three remaining copies in existence and wishes Corso to authenticate that his is the original, and if not obtain the true copy from one of the other owners, no matter the cost.

Corso accepts the assignment, but soon finds him in over his head in a world of deceit, greed, and murder.  He is followed by a beautiful woman Emmanuelle Singer.  Is she friend, protector, competitor, or foe?  He is attacked by Telfer’s widow (Lina Olin) who believes in the power of the book and will do anything to get back what she believes is her property.

Odd occurrences, dead bodies, and attempts on his life make Corso consider abandoning the project all together, but he has become caught in the mystery.  He has stumbled on the secret of these three books hidden in the engravings and the only questions that remain are:  Will he live long enough to interpret them?  And what happens if it the nine gates are open?

This is just a mesmerizing tale that weaves its characters through a world of danger, deceit, and deception.  There are no heroes here, no white knights; everyone has their own agenda, even our protagonist.  In a lesser film Corso would become the reluctant hero and do what is right because the script calls for him to do so.  Here Polanski lets the story play out, allowing his characters to be interesting without trying to force them to be likable or noble.

Polanski slowly builds the tension and paranoia offering glimpses of understanding and knowledge, but like a good magician never showing us the entire truth.  Shooting much of the movie in Euope gives the film an old world style which adds to the mystique of the centuries old mystery held within the pages of a book.

Depp is excellent as always; this is one of my favorite roles of his career.  Polanski finds just the right supporting cast to fill in this world of shadow and dark secrets.  Langella and Singer are both outstanding in their roles.  I also enjoyed Barbara Jefford as the demonolgist Baroness Kessler and Jose Lopez Rodero in the dual role of the Ceniza brothers.

This was one of many “devil” films that Hollywood shot out in a short period of time—End of Days, Bless the Child, The Devil’s Advocate among others.  Ninth Gate succeeds where they fail by playing on the seductive nature of knowledge and power rather than casting or creating a huge CGI devil creature (like Pacino in Advocate).

The DVD contains the trailer and a very short two-minute featurette on the making of the movie with on set interviews with Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, and Roman Polanski.

While not your average scary movie, The Ninth Gate is something much more interesting.  Polanski’s film is a thoughtful and suspenseful movie with great performances and wonderful direction.  The world we are thrust into is a confusing and violent one, but the out isn’t to slay the beast or stop armaggedon.  Here only knowledge can save you, but that knowledge has the power to destroy you as well.  Every choice has a consequence and Polanski take devilish care in showing us only about half of what is going on so that even the revelations lead to more questions.  The Ninth Gate is a maze where each turn provides startling suprises and the end is always close but never quite within reach as the suspense builds from the very first scene until the end credits.

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