"There's nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for
hard cash," Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) states near the beginning of "The
Ninth Gate". The film actually starts off rather well, with decent quotes
like this one and an intriguing story. However, things grow steadily worse
from there, until the movie disintegrates into a heap of cheesy dialogue and
horror film cliches. Roman Polanski ("Rosemary's Baby") hasn't made a film
in quite some time, since he's been out of the country fleeing a statutory
rape charge that was brought against him. Polanski is obviously out of
practice. The man who once created a classic horror film like "Rosemary's
Baby" back in 1968, now seems incapable of scaring his audiences in any way.
Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a finder of rare books (a book detective, as one
character puts it). His latest assignment is to track down the remaining two
copies of an ancient book for his employer, Boris Balkan. The book is called
The Ninth Gate, a sort of bible to devil worshipers. Balkan wants Corso to
determine which of the three remaining volumes is authentic, as he is
certain that two of them are forgeries. Corso's journey leads him to France,
Portugal and Spain as he tracks down collectors of rare and occult books. He
soon discovers that he is being followed by two interested parties. One is
Liana Tefler (Lena Olin), who was the original owner of Balkan's copy, the
other is a young lady (Emmanuelle Seigner) who seems to be protecting Corso
for unkown reasons.
Like I said, it really is a rather interesting plot idea, but Polanski
somehow botches it beyond all recognition. One of the largest problems with
the film is that Polanski seems incapable of tightening the script in any
way. We are constantly given scenes like this one: Johnny Depp walks into
the room, looks around for a minute and a half, then unpacks his bag. He
looks at his book for several more minutes, then puts it away and walks out
of the room. You'd be amazed at the amount of yawning I heard in the
audience during this so called thriller. It seems Polanski decided to spend
all his time on scenes which we couldn't care less about, but in the
tradition of "Eye of the Beholder" and "Boiler Room", he spent no time at
all on the film's ending. This is another one you can add to that ever
growing list of films that just stops in mid-scene, rather than really
I recently heard that Johnny Depp refused to discuss "The Ninth Gate", being
unhappy with the final product. His lack of enthusiasm for the film
certainly shows in his performance. The man looks bored out of his mind
throughout the entire film. As for the rest of the cast, the only
interesting performance comes from Frank Langella ("Cutthroat Island") as a
creepy millionaire. Lena Olin ("Mystery Men") has always appeared to possess
no acting talent whatsoever, and she continues to display this here.
Emmanuelle Seigner ("Frantic") is given very little to do, and she does so
admirably. The most aggravating and yet somehow strangely amusing
performance (or perhaps I should say performances) comes from Jose Lopez
Rodero, playing twin brothers who complete one another's scentences.
The last thing I'm going to mention is the music used in this film. I'm not
sure who chose it, but it is more suitable for a comedy than a horror film.
There is nothing remotely suspensful about it; what suspense might be in the
film, is killed whenever the music starts playing. If 2000 continues with
the sort of movies I've seen so far, we're all in for a very long year. "The
Ninth Gate" is yet another waste of time. Luckily, "American Beauty" and
"The Sixth Sense" are playing in theaters right now, having been re-released
after their Oscar nominations. I'd suggest seeing one of those rather than
this piece of tripe. The movie runs far too long at 127 minutes, which
should have been cut down to at least 110. I'd recommend it only to die hard
fans of Johnny Depp, and give it two out of five stars.
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* * * * * - One of the greatest movies ever made, see it now.
* * * * - Great flick, try and catch this one.
* * * - Okay movie, hits and misses.
* * - Pretty bad, see it only if you have nothing better to do.
* - One of the worst movies ever made. See it only if you enjoy pain.
Copyright © 2000 John Beachem