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NINTH GATE, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a New York book broker specialising in rare and antique books, highly professional but no saint. When he is hired by the wealthy Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to track down two matching books to Balkan's priceless and mysterious 17th century Satanic text, The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, Corso sets off on a quest across Europe that is at once terrifying and fascinating. On the way, he meets up with the devastating widow, Liana (Lena Olin), a mysterious assistant, the Girl (Emmanuelle Seigner), a Baroness (Barbara Jefford) and the Cenize brothers (Jose Lopez Rodero) among many others. The secret of the books holds extraordinary powers, or so Balkan believes. And nothing will get in his way.

"From a novel by a Spanish writer of great repute, adapted by a writer whose forte is literary translation, and directed by a filmmaker who has a natural feel for cinema, it is no surprise that this is a rich, dense, provocative film of the imagination. When Einstein said, imagination is more important than knowledge, he was surely referring to the movies. Polanski certainly listened. Edgy, gripping, superbly designed, performed and shot, The Ninth Gate is a fascinating combination of detective story, thriller and gothic spiritual quest. It's not for a lazy arvo at the movies, because it demands your complete attention - and it's worth it. You'll get your dollar's worth in the first half hour alone, as the first act establishes an unnerving, uncertain and unpredictable scenario gilded with a sense of history, eternal damnation and obsession. Frank Langella stamps his awesome screen charisma all over the screen as the unstoppable book collector, Boris Balkan, and Johnny Depp sculpts a Corso that combines intelligence and cool, enough to be our centre of association. The two powerhouse women, Liana and the Girl, are sensational - but everyone is superb, including the smallest support roles (like the Parisian hotel concierge). Kilar's score is a marvellous soundscape that deepens our visceral responses. I find this a fabulous film experience; it is exotic yet controlled, constructed with the finest arts and crafts of filmmaking. Even the FX are subtle. A film for the connoisseur."
Andrew L. Urban

"This enthralling film has all the elements conventionally linked with Roman Polanski's work: supernatural horror, kinky sex and grotesque humour. On a deeper level, too, it uses many themes and techniques that have recurred throughout Polanski's career. There's the exploration of highly specialised, perhaps deranged, subjective perceptions: the nominal hero, Dean Corso, is shifty and unreliable in every way, while his career as a book dealer depends precisely on his semi-paranoid eye for detail, his ability to spot the esoteric visual clue. Like so many of Polanski's protagonists, he's also a foreigner, a stranger in a strange land, and it's typical that this innocent abroad proves just as devious as the corrupt Europeans he encounters. Also typical of Polanski are the games with confined space: the antique book trade, as depicted here, is literally a hole-and-corner business, conducted in hidden vaults and cramped, dingy shops below the street. The literal dimness and darkness of most of the images is obtrusive, and seems to allude (especially at the end) to a religious struggle between good and evil. Yet this symbolism remains ambiguous: bright light may also represent the fires of hell, while dimness envelops the film in cosy nostalgia, as if returning us to the days of gaslight and fog. Indeed, the occasionally stiff dialogue and old-fashioned, leisurely storytelling suggest a 19th-century literary fairy-tale, a homage to Robert Louis Stevenson. The deliberate, highly-wrought style carries us through strange events with dreamlike ease; one country resembles another, so that nowhere seems quite real. The world, as Corso perceives it, is less a physical place than a metaphysical battlefield controlled by obscure books and rituals: a shadowy maze of narrow alleys, plush hotel rooms, taxis, airports, and the mansions of eccentric millionaires."
Jake Wilson

"Although Roman Polanski's best days are well behind him, he can still produce great moments of cinema. The Ninth Gate is a fairly hokey horror thriller lifted by a handful of pure Polanski highlights and some inspired casting. While there aren't too many surprises along the way Depp is good company as the mercenary book-finder ("a double-dealing, money grabbing bastard") and his Angel heart-like journey throws up some colourful characters. In a film where individual scenes add up to more than the picture as a whole, Depp's meetings with the owners and seekers of the valuable volumes keep this entertaining. Barbara Jefford is an eccentric delight as the wheelchair-bound devil authority Baroness Kessler, Eurotrash film veteran Jack Taylor dignified as the last survivor of a once-wealthy Portuguese family and Lena Olin supplies first-rate scenery chewing as a femme fatale also wanting to pick up her very own copy of The Nine Gates. Jose Lopez Rodero, the film's production manager who also worked for Stanley Kubrick on Spartacus, deserves a special nod for his acting debut as a very funny set of Spanish bookbinding twins. There's no shortage of incident as Depp dodges heavies on motorcycles, hooks up with a mystery woman (Emmanuelle Seigner, aka Mrs Polanski) and ruffles the robes of a secret devil society at a meeting in one of those fabulous chateaux all such societies have on standby when Lucifer comes calling. All that's missing from this adaptation of Arturo Perez Reverte's novel El Club Dumas is genuine menace and terror. The elements are there but Polanski doesn't pull off any big scares, leaving a rather flat feeling by the time this reaches its overcooked finale. Despite the lack of chills this still has enough intriguing elements and oddball characters to make it worth a look."
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

TRAILER

NINTH GATE, THE (M)
(US)

CAST: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbara Jefford, Jack Taylor, James Russo and Jose Lopez Rodero

DIRECTOR: Roman Polanski

PRODUCER: Roman Polanski, Mark Allan, Antonio Cardenal, Allain Vannier

SCRIPT: John Brownjohn, Roman Polanski (novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Darius Khondji

EDITOR: Hervé de Luze

MUSIC: Wojciech Kilar

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dean Tavoularis

RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: September 28, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

VIDEO RELEASE: January 24, 2001

SELLTHROUGH: May 9, 2001







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