Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Movie Review: The Ninth Gate 2 ½ Stars

No stranger to the Satanic, director Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Macbeth, Fearless Vampire Killers, wife Sharon Tate slain by the Manson family) returns to the demonic with The Ninth Gate. However, outside of the peculiar kung fu witch and an occult orgy with old people, The Ninth Gate is light on horror; in fact, it is nothing more than a detective story in supernatural clothing.

Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is an unscrupulous rare book dealer who traffics in the ancient tome underground. Publisher and expert-on-the-occult Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) hires nonbeliever Corso to verify the authenticity of the seventeenth-century Book of the Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Darkness, a book of riddles reputed to be written by Satan himself.

To validate Balkan’s copy, Corso must travel to Europe and compare the book with the only two copies that still exist; one owned by eccentric Fargas (Jack Taylor), the other by Baroness Kessler (Barbara Jefford). When both Fargas and the Baroness are murdered, Corso finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery that seems to point to Balkan, femme fatale Liana Tefler (Lena Olin) and the enigmatic kung fu witch (Emmanuelle Seigner).

With an unhurried pace that builds suspense without tricks of the boo variety, deliberate performances by the cast and his signature camp humor, Polanski delivers a skillful postmodern noir thriller, going so far as to blatantly reference The Big Sleep. Unfortunately, unlike that film, The Ninth Gate isn’t a confusing mess with an unresolved ending, but rather a straightforward crime orchestration with an unresolved ending. Engaging until the last few scenes, the film is almost totally ruined by a conclusion that’s neither satisfying nor unsettling. The Sixth Sense The Ninth Gate isn’t.

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