[box cover]

The Ninth Gate

Artisan Home Video

Starring Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, and Emmanuelle Seigner

Written by John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu, and Roman Polanski,
from the novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

Directed by Roman Polanski

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Just about the only time director Roman Polanski ever got it right, his muse was in the thrall of Satan. His atmospheric 1967 thriller, Rosemary's Baby, was a dead-on, meticulously crafted ode to the power of paranoia and the intangible creepiness of old people — who in this case were grooming young wife Mia Farrow to carry The Malevolent One's demon seed. Polanski must've broken his deal with the Devil, however, as the dwarfish Pole's output since that excellent Hollywood debut has been spotty, at best, including the overrated, muddled Chinatown.

Well, the outlaw auteur must be trying to get his edge back, as he flirts with the Unholiest of Unholies once more in The Ninth Gate. Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, an enigmatic hunter of rare books, who frequently slips into the nether regions of moral ambiguity in the course of his work. And without batting an eye. Or cracking a smile. Or in anyway breaking his stone-faced, stone-hearted veneer. These traits make him a perfect employee for Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), a sinister dandy with a mammoth collection of all books Satanic. All, that is, except for the only two duplicate copies of his most recent acquisition: The Book of the Nine Gates, supposedly adapted from a text written by jolly Lucifer hisself.

So Corso treks off to Europe — showing only brief uncertainty after being attacked by a sexy widow (Lena Olin) and finding his friend (James Russo) murdered all ritual-like — and begins piecing together the mystery of The Nine Gates. With a promising set-up like this, it may be time for Polanski to ask himself (since it appears Satan is no longer paying attention) why he continues to make movies. For his execution is scattered, his narrative aimless, and his style, despite a few nice visual moments, misbegotten and totally half-ass.

Depp keeps the movie watchable, but Corso is still a cipher. He is rarely ruffled, although often inept, and follows no discernible character arc. Neither, given unfolding events, does Balkan have any apparent motivation in hiring Corso to do a job it seems Balkan was content to do himself, anyway. And what about Devil-eyed angel of Abaddon Emannuelle Seigner? What about her? Nothing.

Really, Corso's investigation comes off way too easy, and even if that is the result of some apparently divine plan by the Hoary Host himself, is doesn't exactly add up to nail-biting thrills. Polanski doesn't help matters by setting this literally hopeless 133-minute b-movie to an incongruously whimsical score by Wojciech Kilar. You half-expect a gang of naughty trolls to march by on their way to drinks at the Hall of the Mountain King.

Polanski also proves that since Rosemary's Baby, he has no idea how to end a movie. The film's multiple climaxes dribble out flaccidly, with no context to build impact. What are the Nine Gates, anyway? What exactly is Balkan trying to do with them? How does the Devil feel about this? Will this have any affect on the rest of the world? Didn't that remote castle burn down in an earlier scene? Why did I watch this? For a proper ludicrous Devil-fix, rent End of Days. For a compelling one, go back to Rosemary's Baby.

This is a handsome disc, in both 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan and scan, and 5.1 Dolby Digital. Includes a commentary by Polanski, a making-of featurette, stills, and a "gallery of Satanic Drawings," which are really just the fake pictures made for this movie. Keep-case.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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