Projections - Movie Reviews

The Ninth Gate The Ninth Gate

In his second supernatural thriller in a row, Johnny Depp's smooth resourcefulness comes through in a far less mainstream picture than Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, in The Ninth Gate, Roman Polanski's wryly ornate take on a Spanish bestseller that is well crafted but not highly suspenseful.

Instead of a constable, Depp's Dean Corso is an ambitious New York book broker commissioned to track down two important tomes regarding Satan, and appears obsessed in his quest to find the hidden meanings in this "underground" literature, as Ichabod Crane uncovered the demons of the headless horseman.

Seen early in a cold, deceiving mode to acquire a highly coveted copy of Don Quixote, the book detective is given an unusual assignment by the wealthy Manhattan publisher Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) who now owns a copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, its former owner soon hanging herself from a chandelier having penned a suicide note in his study.

While Depp is never less than sly as a corrupt hireling, his goal of finding the other two books and determining whether any of the three are fabricated may elicit yawns.  But, in his odyssey to track down the other two editions in Portugal and France, Balkan's Telfer copy had its writer burned at the stake for working on it as a possessed man.

The early light tone begins to darken as a cynical Corso observes Telfer's lovely widow Liana (Lena Olin) whose modest reaction to Balkan's purchase soon turns feral as this 17th century satanic text gives Corso nightmares like Crane's encounters with the headless horseman.

An arresting woman in sneakers (Emmanuelle Seigner) whom Corso saw at one of Balkan's demonology lectures adds to the mystery as a ransacking leads to the death of his book dealer friend Bernie (James Russo) who ends up deceased in a form like the first engraved picture in The Nine Gates.

The ambivalent Corso almost quits, but Balkan raises his already generous fee, and it seems the filthy rich urban chap is on his way to Europe, where the two remaining volumes exist, with Mr. Fargas in Portugal and Baroness Kessler in France.

Polanski's foray into decadence is spirited when Corso reaches the Ceniza Brothers bookshop, as the twins, a risible Jose Lopez, teaches the crafty Corso on the art of illustrative bookmaking.  Special effects abound in a manner like The Devil's Advocate as its clear that probably more than one person will get to the bottom of the engravings in order to pass through the ninth gate.

One can make the analogy of The Ninth Gate with last year's commercial failure Eyes Wide Shut as the dashing Depp goes on an eerie trek into dark decadence, this time through the meetings of the clandestine Society of the Silver Serpent, recounted by Barbara Jefford's handicapped vivacious Baroness who notes that the opulent Liana, a fervent Olin, now runs the show.

The Ninth Gate is a somewhat fun, yet a convoluted philosophical maze that sees many wearing long, dark, hooded cloaks within a chess match between the solid Depp and some wise Europeans.  While the look of the film and its production and lensing mainly shot in France and Spain adds to its gradual menacing nature, Seigner's "The Girl" is just an enigma to its Faustian outcome.

 
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The Ninth Gate
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