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10 reviews, 73 user ratings

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Ninth Gate, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A very minor part of the Polanski portfolio."
2 stars

Bookish types (no pun intended) may get a charge out of the early scenes in 'The Ninth Gate,' the lumbering thriller directed by Roman Polanski. The camera lingers over centuries-old volumes, their leatherbound bodies shining with perfection, their pages turning with a soft, soothing ruffle.

Polanski, who understands obsession better than just about any living director aside from Martin Scorsese, makes us feel the passion of collectors who not only love but fetishize rare old books. The movie begins with Polanski's usual mood of voluptuous menace, promising an elegant headgame for people who still read; the mood remains -- Polanski's craft is impeccable -- but the story lets him down.

One collector in particular, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), has made it his life's work to collect first editions of all books having to do with Satan; collectors of anything will have no trouble relating to his fixation on The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of the Shadows, the final volume he has acquired to complete his collection. Now he wants book expert Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) to find the other two existing copies of the book, ostensibly to authenticate them. Corso, played by Depp as a cynical brooder with slippery morals, agrees to the quest in exchange for a fat paycheck. The movie itself soon feels as if Polanski had done the same thing.

Corso hops from country to country, which always feels like the same European wherever, in search of the volumes, whose owners all seem destined for undignified deaths. One's anticipatory mood may sour when one realizes that The Ninth Gate is essentially just a ponderous supernatural whodunit, without the freaky twists of an Angel Heart or a Sixth Sense. Polanski seems caught between the commercial (people get knocked off right on cue) and the uncommercial (it's about books, for God's sake), between the art house and the multiplex, between the sublime and the ridiculous. In this case, the ridiculous wins out more often than not.

Once Corso is on the road, away from his usual practice, the movie loses a lot of its unique strangeness. The idea of a collector who only buys books about Satan is intriguing; I was interested in the few glimpses we get of Corso's wheeling and dealing, when he snags a four-volume Don Quixote for a relative pittance and brings them back to a book-dealer associate (James Russo, underused here). When Polanski abandons this backdrop for the conventional thriller stuff, it's a bummer. And the presence of Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner as the mysterious, ass-kicking woman who joins Corso (she's like Lara Croft thrown into the middle of Angel Heart) just makes the movie feel like a creepier version of Polanski's Frantic (also starring Seigner). She seems to have the ability to levitate, and she has a fairly embarrassing topless scene in front of a fiery apocalypse. Yes, Roman, we've already seen why you married her. We didn't need further proof.

One other interesting aspect of The Ninth Gate is the three volumes themselves, which vary slightly; the variations are a key to something, which turns out to be standard supernatural mumbo-jumbo. The ending seems like about three climaxes leading up to a big anticlimax. It's one thing to leave a story unresolved for purposes of artistic ambiguity, but The Ninth Gate has all the earmarks of a director who has no idea how to end his movie (a problem he usually hasn't had before). I won't reveal anything -- though if you missed it opening weekend, what's the likelihood you're ever going to see it anyway? -- but I expected the Boris Balkan character to have more prominence, more power, than he does.

The movie could have used a whole lot more of Frank Langella, who is aging to resemble fellow Dracula Christopher Lee and is rapidly becoming just as lovably hammy. A movie about Boris Balkan, a lonely man whose extensive collection of Satanic literature keeps him warm at night, would have been a good character study for Polanski to tackle. But this movie is about a colorless guy (Depp plays him professionally but indifferently) who wanders around ritzy private libraries and keeps finding dead people.

A seedy loner pursuing a mystery while up against corrupt rich people and Satan: sounds like a good story for the director of 'Chinatown' and 'Rosemary's Baby.' Too bad there's little of that director in evidence here.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1730&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/29/06 23:53:06
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User Comments

4/10/18 The Big D Boris Balkn proves that guys with glasses can be super cool! 5 stars
10/11/10 J.P. Ward Underappreciated atmospheric mood piece with sinister undercurrents. 4 stars
7/30/09 the dork knight Extraordinarily dull for the most, but that was the point? Langella is a scary bastard. 3 stars
5/10/09 matt absolutely genius... a movie of symbols, clues and subtlety 5 stars
1/11/09 Anonymous. very freaky and mysterious, but not one of depp's best... 3 stars
8/17/08 Samantha Pruitt interesting concept, wasn't very well done and slow, at least Johnny was hot! 3 stars
8/04/07 ravenmad interesting concept, but the story was a little weak and the ending too abrupt. 3 stars
6/09/07 fools♫gold Strangely entertaining underrated great originally filmed stuff. 90%, at least. 4 stars
1/21/07 David A. A fascinating supernatural detective story--it rocks! 5 stars
1/03/07 Wildpen film shots were decent, but I woudl have liked to been spoonfed the ending, 3 stars
9/08/06 Michele interesting, mysterious 5 stars
4/03/05 indrid cold Pedophile and rapist Polanski is still given millions of $ to make movies for some reason. 2 stars
3/15/05 Ronin It's not scary. It's creepy and mysterious. People with imagination should like it. 4 stars
10/23/04 andy clark genuinely unsettling moments 4 stars
8/10/04 Umberto Bulgartio I am a rare book dealer and like Corso,I always chain smoke right over priceless books. 4 stars
5/17/04 Anne I will never get my wasted time back. The WORST movie ever made! 1 stars
3/16/04 Brando ....POLANSKI???????!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
1/21/04 American Slasher Goddess Very dull and disappointing. 1 stars
12/13/03 Agent Sands (previously Mr. Hat) Cool ending, but once again, Polanski takes his own sweet time. Film's middle hour=yawn. 3 stars
11/28/03 john creepy, brilliantly shot and ultimatetly shocking (once you get it)) 5 stars
10/26/03 Two-G - horror_blood2 (aka Double G) good movie, a chick satan, hah 5 stars
7/08/03 Stefan Halka Polanski proves once again that he isn't much of a director without a good script. 3 stars
6/18/03 George Jung Sommersby sucks nuts. Big nuts. 5 stars
6/17/03 Jack Bourbon There's some good over here, and there's some bad over here. 3 stars
5/03/03 sleepy I totally got this film. Great fun. 5 stars
4/18/03 Jack Sommersby Dull, lifeless, disjointed and predictable. A real disappointment. 1 stars
2/17/03 Charles Tatum Nice visuals help a script that eventually just repeats itself 4 stars
10/30/02 spacecowboy you keep watching it over and over just so you can figure it out....excellent. 5 stars
9/11/02 R.W. Welch Intriguing much of the way but leaves a lot of loose ends lying around. 3 stars
2/07/02 Aristide Torchia sexy and stylish thiriller 5 stars
2/06/02 Terrie Smith A few good moments but Polanski lets the film run way too long. Slow moving. 3 stars
1/16/02 David A. Outstanding supernatural detective movie. Intelligently done and very exciting 5 stars
1/06/02 Monday Morning Depp must have lost a bet to be in this piece of mierda. 2 stars
11/19/01 Milos Dj. really boring and silly movie 1 stars
7/31/01 Vixor he always pisses me off at the end of his movies- bad movie 2 stars
7/22/01 othree Mystery of the Occult that ends on a mystery, no payoff! Depp was a believable character. 3 stars
6/03/01 Rimshot Doesn't end...just dies. I think Polanski ran out of film. 2 stars
5/09/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Acme goes to the cinema, take 5... 2 stars
5/07/01 Vítor Ribeiro An interesting movie! 4 stars
4/15/01 GeorgE McCaul While it is not Polanski's best film it is not his worst, and I really enjoyed it. 4 stars
3/27/01 Jesse L Depp makes it worthwhile 4 stars
2/12/01 4 play There isn't any more to it? 1 stars
12/23/00 Bev Clark Surreal, suspenseful, stylish and unashamedly tongue in cheek. 4 stars
11/26/00 FrayLo The only redeeming quality of this movie was the sex scene at the end. 1 stars
10/29/00 Holger Lagerfeldt Superb, completely engrossing film experience! 5 stars
10/20/00 Pandora Boring, disconnected, and well, it just plain sucked. 1 stars
10/03/00 sweet-xtacy i thought that the movie was really good, one of the best one's i have ever seen 5 stars
8/27/00 cliff eliason load of hogwash-should be called "tintin and the devil's books" 1 stars
8/24/00 mahone All satanic movies are now in the realm of "The Big Bad Wolf" 1 stars
8/15/00 Drew Vogel Terrific acting, great script, great direction, just wonderful 5 stars
5/12/00 Mark The ending sucked even worse than the film as a whole. 1 stars
5/04/00 KC This is the most boring film ever made! I would have left but I had to drive my friend home 1 stars
5/02/00 cort major Well directed-well acted,very enjoyable. 4 stars
4/15/00 PJ Greatly underrated, Polanski is a master Auteur, the cinematography breathless!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
4/06/00 Leon Trotsky Fuck, was that awful! 1 stars
4/04/00 ChuckEye Strong on visuals, weak on sense. 4 stars
3/31/00 entropy Disappointing - Jonny Dep made it tollerable 2 stars
3/24/00 malcolm thoroughly disappointing! 2 stars
3/14/00 PhilmPhreak Boy, did that suck or what! 1 stars
3/14/00 Lame-Oh much better than the pathetic End of Days and Devil's Advocate flicks 4 stars
3/14/00 Charles Once again, Depp rises above his material. 4 stars
3/13/00 majawat Predictable, slow, but mildly entertaining 3 stars
3/13/00 SomeGuy Pretty good, but barely 1/2 of the book. 4 stars
3/13/00 Captain Highcrime Wait a minute...you can get a Dodge in Europe? 4 stars
3/12/00 pete cummings derek parker is a filthy homosexual 5 stars
3/12/00 rev. eric maultsby very good. i highly recommend this movie. 5 stars
3/12/00 Ben Ryan What happened? I was promised a great movie, but promises are made to be broken. average! 2 stars
3/12/00 Pope Gonzo XIII Extremely well-crafted and mysterious, with engrossing symbolism. 5 stars
3/12/00 Matt A but slow, but it kept me interested. Worth Seeing 4 stars
3/12/00 LCF Richly engrossing old style filmmaking w/a marvelous score, great acting, & a neat mystery 5 stars
3/11/00 Jeremy Boring, had the movie figured out in the first 20 minutes.. 2 stars
2/15/00 k.tomkowski Solid, original, intelligent. Devil as a former angel, mockingly observing human vanities. 4 stars
12/16/99 Derek Parker I love gay guys 5 stars
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  10-Mar-2000 (R)


  28-Sep-2000 (M)

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