Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: The Ninth Gate (1999)

A satanic mystery-thriller released in 1999 that has 66.6 on IMDb...something is amiss here.

Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Emmanuelle Seigner, Frank Langella

"Look around you all what do you see? A bunch of buffoons parading around in fancy dress. You think the prince of Darkness would deign to manifest himself before the likes of you? He never has and he never will!"
-Boris Balkan

I really expected this to be a bad one. I don’t even know why…I just did.

Well, it’s not. This is actually a Roman Polanski film, which I didn’t know when I first heard of it, and I have to say, I’m not that familiar with the guy. But from what I do know about him, he works hard on his movies. He really knows how to put them together. I’ve seen his newest flick Ghost Writer and now this one, and both of them are really well constructed, memorable films, even despite having a distinct lack of popular Hollywood-ized hooks and candy-coated dialogue. Where Ghost Writer was a sleek, tempered political thriller, The Ninth Gate is more like a slow-burning descent down a long, winding stairway, with the temperature rising steadily as you go.

Starring Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, this is about a book-detective who gets hired to track down the last two remaining copies of a satanic text that has mystical codes in it. He gets mixed up with an enigmatic young blonde girl who seems to be out to help him, and also a duo of prestigious and shady nature who want to steal the one copy he does have back. As people start to die around him, Depp’s stoic nature and lack of any kind of superstition undergo a heavy challenge…

I can’t say this is a great movie, but it is pretty good. I’m surprised how memorable I found it. The characters are well-acted and the locations are well-lit and really cool and exotic – look at all of the empty city streets, ancient buildings, decaying temple walls and dusty libraries; it’s practically ripe for a satanic thriller to be made out of. Depp always looks cool and acts cool, even if the weird stuff going on around him overshadows his acting alone. I have to say I really enjoyed the performance of Emmanuelle Seigner as “the girl.” She’s sexy, she’s mysterious and she just kicks ass. Even if those flying effects she does when she jumps are really corny looking. Props to her for doing a really great job.

And I just think that the film’s attention to a fairly minimalistic way of storytelling and presentation is charming. I don’t know, it’s just cool. With all the big budget flicks and super-polished films around with a ton of effects, watching a movie like this is refreshing, even if I am about 11 years late to the punch. The movie still has a ton of suspense, and it will really pull you in with its deftly placed twists and turns. It’s not a fast paced thriller at all, but it kind of slowly works its way into your bones, and even when it isn’t that exciting, you still want to know what happens next. That’s a sign of a good flick.

The Ninth Gate has some problems. Some of the action scenes are clumsy and awkward and it does run a little too long at over two hours. But overall it’s a really solid thriller that will put some chills in your bones if you watch it late at night. Thumbs up to Polanski.