Despite some of its gothic surface trappings, Polanski's brilliant and delightful 'The Ninth Gate' is decidedly NOT a horror film. Rather, it is both an occult fantasy and a bibliographic detective story with a leavening touch of dark humor. And it is that latter element which makes it a perfect trilogy with Polanski's 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'The Tenant'. But the one element that sets it apart from Polanski's other films, as well as most other films I've seen, is its central plot. For how many films can you think of which co-star a BOOK?
That's right. A book.
For the film's title is derived from the ancient tome to which I refer -- the fictional 'Nine Gates To The Kingdom Of Shadows' (think Lovecraft's Necronomicon). And it is this elusive and ultra rare volume, as well as one of its three owners, Boris Balkan (a suavely sinister Frank Langella), that sends Johhny Depp's dubious Dean Corso (he's wonderful in this role) on a globe-hopping quest to secure the other two volumes by hook or by crook. Mostly crook.
For Dean Corso is a rare book detective whose loyalty can easily be purchased by the highest bidder. And purchase it Mr. Balkan does, sending both the plot and the film into motion, masterfully and wittily controlled by Polanski.
Other elements too good not to be acknowledged are the various supporting performances. From the aforementioned Langella, to a wickedly and insouciantly seductive Lena Olin, to the various characters Depp's literary sleuth encounters on his travels -- every one of these a gem -- this film is an embarrassment of riches. Like a more accessible 'Eyes Wide Shut', and with certain aspects of the classic 'Night Of The Demon', the film's central character moves from essential innocence to knowing experience, and, as a result of his adventures and discoveries, ends up in a very different place from where he began.
Filmed in various picturesque cities, the film also benefits from its fine sets and atmospheric locations. And the cinematography and memorable score are also essential elements in this carefully paced, playfully naughty puzzle-toy of a film.
Adapted from a complex novel ('The Club Dumas') Polanski wisely decided to jettison one of the book's central plots entirely and concentrate instead on just one of them -- the search for a book which is supposed to have been co-authored by none other than his Dark Majesty, Lucifer himself.
Any further surprises that await in this deliciously enjoyable film I shall not give away here. But, suffice it to say, this is a rich and rewarding cinematic adventure which will repay repeated viewings. And a marvelous bonus is the superb commentary track which Polanski provides here -- one of the best and most informative director commentaries I've had the pleasure of listening to in its entirety.
Intrigued? Then purchase this at once. You won't be disappointed.