The Ninth Gate review

:. Director: Roman Polanski
:. Starring: Johnny Depp, Emmanuelle Seigner
:. Running Time: 2:13
:. Year: 2000
:. Country: USA

With a good director, Roman Polanski, a good lead, Johnny Depp and a good premise, the hunt for a rare medieval evil book, The Ninth Gate—aka "You'll find the door to hell if your eyes aren't wide shut"—is an intriguing and enjoyable piece that unfortunately falls short from being a great movie.

Yes, The Ninth Gate has many assets. First of all, the plot and setting are the most intriguing: a greedy rare book chaser (Depp) is hired to authenticate an old witchcraft book that could have been written by Lucifer himself by comparing it to two other versions available in France & Portugal. This setting is also a good pretext to enter a world rarely seen on the big screen, rare books lovers, and to travel from the US to Europe. Roman Polanski's (Chinatown, Bitter Moon) direction also succeeds through his own recognizable slow paced style combining irony and mystery. The film is indeed slow but arouses the spectator's curiosity as some clues are revealed. The production is colorful but knows how to stay minimalist. The humour vehiculed by his main character is also what makes it enjoyable and bearable since through Depp's role, Polanski shows that he doesn't take his story seriously (just like Depp's character)—see bogus ritual scenes—what isn't a surprise from the director who once turned vampire movies into a big farce (Fearless Vampire Killers). Talking about vampires, the director even gives an ironic clue in one character's name—Balkan—a name with a dark tone at a political level as well as in horror movies. Finally Polanski prefers to stay close to his characters and follow their reactions to the events they are confronted with instead of going for high-tech special effects and latex devils with horns. Psychology and suspense are favored to spectacle here, and his gothic minimalism even turns cheap in the only scene involving some mere special effects (sex & fire).

Johnny Depp's acting is a real treat. He is the one who carries the movie on his shoulders and makes it work—at least for a while—. As usual, he takes on an anti-hero role and fits perfectly in these shoes. He plays a greedy unethical and cowardly book hunter (the actor astutely gives a hint regarding his character's potential through his look). He can only further his investigation because he is protected by a guardian angel—a woman (French actress Emmanuelle Seigner)—what renders him even more weak. He says, speaking of his enemies,: "if they're there,I'll just hide behind you". And this line, as well as his "loser" acting makes him an evil alter-ego of Ichabod Crane, his innocent character from Sleepy Hollow who cowered behind Cristina Ricci. One can recognize a pattern in Depp's roles, who are most often anti-heros. The actor who has everything still seems to go after a respect he has already gained, still wanting to make us forget he was once a a cover-boy and wants to be remembered for his talent and not his looks.

Unfortunately what could have been a great piece of work turns bad after 80 minutes. From this specific scene, the film drowns in the mucky waters of a B-movie, in a succession of cliches and bad scenes. This turning point is the black celebration scene in the castle, a scene that looks exactly like the much talked-about scene for Eyes Wide Shut. Same setting, same costumes, same atmosphere, the only difference resides in the evil aspect of the ceremony contrary to Stanley Kubrick's orgy scene. One can even witness the back of Lena Olin getting naked just like Nicole Kidman in the opening credits of Eyes Wide Shut. What follows is a car chase sequence (!!) that contrasts with the slow pace of the movie and leads to an ever worsening finale. While Polanski did such a good job at slowly increasing the suspense and therefore the spectator's curiosity and expectations, the final sequences, through a mix of overacting—though not Depp—, lousy screenwriting and cheesy shots turn ridiculous, therefore destructing the whole film by not meeting the expectations its premice created. What Polanski had in mind is unclear. Obviously not an ode because the strange similarities with Kubrick's piece and the bad ending are too obvious and flashy. And Polanski's akwardness destroys his movie. By trying to spice up the ending and make it big, he falls for cheap Hollywood tricks that contradict the slow pace, atmosphere and suggestive style that were its strength. In addition, the presence of his muse and wife—Emmanuelle Seigner—was a miscast since she is never able to give credibility to her role. Finally a message of the film is that anybody can be seduced by the power of evil. However the way it happens is not very conclusive. By trying to give an unexpected twist to the story, the situation becomes hardly believable because the circumstances and the characters traits haven't been developed enough to lead to such a conclusion.

The Ninth Gate is an interesting movie—even captivating at some point. But when you build so much expectation, you are not allowed to fail.

  Fred Thom

     Movie Reviews: American Films
     Reviews 2012 - present
     Reviews 1998 - 2012

  .: AFI Fest
  .: Cannes Festival
  .: COL COA
  .: LA Film Festival
  .: LA Latino Festival
  .: more Festivals
  .: Cult Classic
  .: Foreign
  .: U.S. Underground
  .: Musical Films
  .: Controversial Films
  .: Silent Films
  .: Italian Westerns
  .: Erotica
  .: Download Movies
  .: Movie Rentals
  .: Movie Trailer
| About Plume Noire | Contacts | Advertising | Submit for review | Help Wanted! | Privacy Policy | Questions/Comments |
| Work in Hollywood | Plume Noire en français [in French] |