The Ninth Gate

The Ninth Gate is the typical movie that appears more promising than it really is. It is the latest movie to deal with the devil (End of Days, Stigmata, the upcoming Lost Souls) and a return to horror for director Roman Polanski (Death and the Maiden, Bitter Moon) after Rosemary's Baby. Not only that, but Johnny Depp (The Astronaut's Wife, Sleepy Hollow), always great in creepy roles, plays Dean Corso, the protagonist. Even with all this, The Ninth Gate, based on El Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, still manages to be boring, always falling one step short of what it could accomplish.

Corso is a rather unscrupulous rare book dealer. He has a reputation for short-changing people on the value of their old books. Rich businessman Boris Balkan (Frank Langella, Lolita, Small Soldiers) acquired a rare book, The Ninth Gate of the Kingdom of Shadows, a book rumored to be co-authored by the Satan himself. There are only three known copies of the book in existence, and Balkan believes only one is authentic. Supposedly hidden within the book are evil secrets, which Balkan wants for himself. Corso's job is to track down the other two books and compare everything about them. It sounds easy enough, but when strange things start happening, Corso becomes increasingly nervous. People seem to be trying to kill him, a beautiful (and annoying) woman (Emmaneulle Seigner, Buddy Boy, Bitter Moon) is always following him, and things from the book are coming true. Much to his own dismay, Corso is drawn into events beyond his understanding.

The key here is that Corso plays a passive role in the movie. He does very little, everything happens around him. It actually is not clear why he is actually needed. Worse yet, the script by Polanski, John Brownjohn, and Enrique Urbizu leaves much unexplained. By the end of the movie, the role the book plays, and the consequences of using it are still not completely clear. Also unclear is how Corso is able to deduce much of the information from the book. And why does Corso, supposedly an intelligent dealer in rare books, always smoke around priceless volumes? Ashes? Hello? The lack of action does not help. The previews set up The Ninth Gate as a horror/thriller, but the movie itself tries to be a thinking man's horror movie. However, not much brainpower went into the movie. The other elements of the film are much better. Wojciech Kilar, the man behind the ubiquitous music of Bram Stoker's Dracula, composes an equally ethereal and spooky score. Most of the scenes have an Old World feel. Large, musty tomes line the walls of old libraries, and every building is wonderfully dilapidated. So when watching The Ninth Gate, turn down the brain and leave the eyes open.

Haro Rates It: Okay
2 hours, 7 minutes, Rated R for some violence and sexuality.

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