Ninth Gate, The

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 03/22/00 09:40:29

"Trailers Shortchange Polanski's Latest"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The Ninth Gate (***) (Out of 4) For months, The Ninth Gate was a mystery to film audiences. Trailers were no longer than a thirty-second teaser and in that time hinted that Roman Polanski’s latest film was a Stigmata/End of Days-like satanic thriller and nothing more. Unfortunately, the trailers have done harm on so many levels that its unlikely to ever find an audience that will appreciate what is easily the best of all the recent journeys into the supernatural.

What the previews only hint at is that Johnny Depp plays a morally-questioned rare book dealer who is hired to seek out and authenticate two remaining copies of a book supposedly adapted from the words of Satan himself. This takes him from New York to exotic locations in Europe meeting one colorful book collector after another. With this setup and the slam-bang nature of the film’s ads, you get the feeling you know exactly where this is all headed, but not quite as you might expect. There are the requisite obstacles trying to prevent his task as well as a mysterious protector in the form of Polanski’s wife, Emmanuelle Seigner. But is she a guardian angel or just a employee of his employer, whom Depp, amusingly, can never discover his whereabouts. Johnny Depp’s performance once again distinguishes him among the rare few that can lose himself in a character chameleon-style putting him along the lines of Robert DeNiro and Gene Hackman as one of our greatest actors. Polanski creates a kind of crossbreed between Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, not using many bells and whistles to keep the storytelling simple and old-fashioned noir-ish. A suitable counterpart would be Alan Parker’s disturbing Angel Heart (1986) where a private eye went deep into voodoo culture to discover shocking secrets.

Thrill seekers going in here expecting a plethora of special effects and music-induced “BOO” moments are going to be bored and get antsy. And those turned off by the trailers promising exactly that, are going to miss an interesting detective story that only dabbles in the supernatural elements right up to the multiple endings that are either going to cause groaning or discussion.

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