Friday March 10, 2000
Harrison Ford, John Travolta or even Leonardo DiCaprio, getting the devil involved in your picture is a sure way of getting it made. Not necessarily as a producer or financial backer (though that probably wouldn't hurt) but merely as a subject. From 1899's "Chorus Girls and the Devil" (little more than the title survives, unfortunately) to the current "The Ninth Gate," Satan has always been the movie business' go-to guy.
Adapted (quite loosely, apparently) from "El Club Dumas," a literary thriller by Spanish novelist Arturo Perez-Reverte, "The Ninth Gate" is at least the second encounter with the evil one for Roman Polanski. The director of the classic "Rosemary's Baby" still has a liking for the outre and the bizarre, but that's as far as the parallels between the two films go.
For though "The Ninth Gate" is well-crafted with a genteel and moody air, it's best understood as a kind of anti-thriller. Lacking noticeable energy or drive, its almost visceral distaste for dramatic momentum is puzzling, especially in a film about the black arts. It's got an old-fashioned European sensibility--most of it is set on that continent--all well-mannered style and very little involving passion.
It's hard to tell whether star Johnny Depp was a contributing factor to this lethargy or merely found it to his liking. Wearing glasses and a small goatee, with his hair graying at the temples, Depp quietly disappears inside the chain-smoking character of Dean Corso, a protagonist so buttoned-down he's always difficult to read.
Which is ironic in a way, because Corso plays a book detective, a specialist in finding and procuring very old and rare volumes for collectors willing to pay extravagantly for them. An elegant, soulless weasel who finds a reputation for unscrupulousness to be a professional asset, Corso is proud to say he believes only in "my percentage." That's just fine with client Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), who himself believes "no one is more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash."
Balkan is a fabulously wealthy collector with a twist. "All my rare editions have the same protagonist," he tells Corso with an appropriately icy smile. "The devil." The pride of his collection, just bought from recently deceased rival Andrew Telfer, is a 17th century item called "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of the Shadows."
Published in 1666, "The Nine Gates" is no ordinary antiquarian volume. Its author, Aristide Torchia, took the trouble to adapt it from a book supposedly written by the devil himself (who knew he had the time?) and was burned at the stake for his pains. Only three copies are known to exist, Balkan says, and he believes only one of them is genuine. Authenticity is important because the real book is said to have the power to summon the devil himself from the terrifying nether world.
Devotees of this book are understandably rabid about getting their hands on it, so when Corso accepts Balkan's commission to go to Europe and examine the other two copies, it's a given that: a) sinister forces will be unleashed in his path and b) because it's a movie after all, beautiful women will factor into the equation.
First to reveal herself is Liana Telfer (Lena Olin), the coolly seductive widow of previous owner Andrew Telfer. Then there is a character known only as the Girl, an enigmatic blond wearing a parka, jeans, running shoes and mismatched socks. Played by Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski's wife), the Girl knows a heck of a lot about the book and appears and disappears almost at will. You figure it out, because Corso is in no hurry to.
Those similarly in the mood for something languorous and atmospheric will not be angry with "The Ninth Gate." Working with dark side cinematographer Darius Khondji ("Seven," "The City of Lost Children") and veteran composer Wojciech Kilar, Polanski has concentrated on the subdued and the spooky. And he's thrown in some bizarre acting touches, like having veteran production manager Jose Lopez Rodero play both Pablo and Pedro Ceniza, identical twin book dealers.
Because its several libraries were created by expert production designer Dean Tavoularis and his team, book collectors will be pleased by the film's visual tribute to old and beautiful volumes, its habit of bathing them in the kind of warm and flattering light usually reserved for actresses like Madonna.
Finally, however, "The Ninth Gate" is too laid-back and unconcerned about the pacing of its story to be satisfying. Polanski and his co-writers Enrique Urbiz and John Brownjohn seem supremely indifferent about bringing things to any kind of dramatic conclusion, and while a thriller that's not high-powered is an intriguing concept, in reality it can hold our attention for only so long.
The Ninth Gate, 2000. R, for some violence and sexuality. Released by Artisan Entertainment. Director Roman Polanski. Producer Roman Polanski. Executive producers Wolfgang Glattes, Michel Cheyko. Screenplay Enrique Urbiz, Roman Polanski, John Brownjohn, based on the novel by Arturo Perez Reverte. Cinematographer Darius Khondji. Editor Herve de Luze. Costumes Anthony Powell. Music Wojciech Kilar. Production design Dean Tavoularis. Running time: 2 hours, 13 minutes. Dolores Heredia as Esperanza. Fernando Torre Lapham as Padre Salvador. Demian Bichir as Cacomixtle. Alberto Estrella as Angel. Eric Schaeffer as Wirey Spindell. Eric Mabius as Wirey at 17. Callie Thorne as Tabatha. Samantha Buck as Samantha. Sophia-Adella Hernandez as Belle Alvarado. Eduardo Yan~ez as Mario Rodriguez. Tony Plana as Chuck Alvarado. William McNamara as Michael DeMarco. Maria Conchita Alonso as Carmen Alvarado. Paul Winfield as Ron Regent. Liam Neeson as Charlie. Oliver Platt as Fulvio Nesstra. Jose Zuniga as Fidel Vaillar. Michael Delorenzo as Estuvio. Andy Lauer as Jason Cane. Richard Schiff as Elliott. Paul Ben-Victor as Howard. Gregg Daniel as Jonathan. Ben Weber as Mark. Sandra Bullock as Judy Tipp. Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott. Courteney Cox Arquette as Gale Weathers. David Arquette as Dewey Riley. Parker Posey as Jennifer Jolie. Bernadette Lafont as Jane. Lucile Saint-Simon as Rita. Clothilde Joano as Jacqueline. Stephane Audran as Ginette. Mark Webber as Hal Brandston. Zena Grey as Natalie Brandston. Chevy Chase as Tom Brandston. Schuyler Fisk as Lane Leonard. Emmanuelle Chriqui as Claire Bonner. Jean Smart as Laura Brandston. Chris Elliott as Snowplowman. Leonardo DiCaprio as Richard. Tilda Swinton as Sal. Virginie Ledoyen as Francoise. Guillaume Canet as Etienne. Robert Carlyle as Daffy. Vin Diesel as Riddick. Radha Mitchell as Fry. Cole Hauser as Johns. Keith David as Imam. Giovanni Ribisi as Seth. Vin Diesel as Chris. Nia Long as Abby. Nicky Katt as Greg. Scott Caan as Richie. Ron Rifkin as Seth's Father. Ben Affleck as Jim Young. Wei Minzhi as Wei Minzhi. Zhang Huike as Zhang Huike. Tian Zhenda as Mayor Tian. Gao Enman as Teacher Gao. Meg Ryan as Eve. Diane Keaton as Georgia. Lisa Kudrow as Maddy. Walther Matthau as Lou. Bruce Willis as Jimmy Tudeski. Matthew Perry as Oz Oseransky. Rosanna Arquette as Sophie. Michael Clarke Duncan as Frankie Figgs. Natasha Henstridge as Cynthia. Amanda Peet as Jill. Michael Douglas as Grady Tripp. Tobey Maguire as James Leer. Frances McDormand as Sara Gaskell. Katie Holmes as Hannah Green. Rip Torn as Q. Robert Downey Jr. as Terry Crabtree. Aaron Harnick as David Gold. Edie Falco as Judy Berlin. Madeline Kahn as Alice Gold. Bob Dishy as Arthur Gold. Barbara Barrie as Sue Berlin. Bette Henritze as Dolores Engler. Ayesha Dharkar as Malli. Vishnu Vardhan as Thyagu. Bhanu Prakash as Perumal. K. Krishna as Lover. Sonu Sisupal as Leader. Vishwas as Lotus. Michael Rooker as Fritz Burns. Selma Blair as Jane. Valerie Perrine as Marguerita Hansen. Harold Gould as Solly K. William Sasso as Fat Dog. A Cinema Village Features release. Running time as 1 hour, 22 minutes.. Ian Hart as Kieran. Pat Short as Ollie. Cathleen Bradley as Siobhan. Niamh Cusack as Kate. Sean McGinley as Ian. Ben Affleck as Rudy. Gary Sinise as Gabriel. Charlize Theron as Ashley. Dennis Farina as Jack Bangs. James Frain as Nick. Clarence Williams III as Merlin. Aaron Harnick as David Gold. Edie Falco as Judy Berlin. Madeline Kahn as Alice Gold. Bob Dishy as Arthur Gold. Barbara Barrie as Sue Berlin. Bette Henritze as Dolores Engler. Ayesha Dharkar as Malli. Vishnu Vardhan as Thyagu. Bhanu Prakash as Perumal. K. Krishna as Lover. Sonu Sisupal as Leader. Vishwas as Lotus. Michael Rooker as Fritz Burns. Selma Blair as Jane. Valerie Perrine as Marguerita Hansen. Harold Gould as Solly K. William Sasso as Fat Dog. A Cinema Village Features release. Running time as 1 hour, 22 minutes.. Ian Hart as Kieran. Pat Short as Ollie. Cathleen Bradley as Siobhan. Niamh Cusack as Kate. Sean McGinley as Ian. Ben Affleck as Rudy. Gary Sinise as Gabriel. Charlize Theron as Ashley. Dennis Farina as Jack Bangs. James Frain as Nick. Clarence Williams III as Merlin. Carlotte Coleman as Portia Thornton. Edin Dzandzanovic as Pero Guzina. Danny Nussbaum as Griffin Midge. Gilbert Martin as Jerry Higgins. Nicholas Farrell as Dr. Mouldy. Brian Hooks as Rob. N'Bushe Wright as Juanita. Faizon Love as Tone. E40 as Mike. Starletta DuPois as Moms. George Wallace as Pops. David Alan Grier as Jenkins. Anders W. Berthelsen as Kresten. Iben Hjejle as Liva. Jesper Asholt as Rud. Emil Tarding as Bjarke. Madonna as Abbie. Rupert Everett as Robert. Benjamin Bratt as Ben. Michael Vartan as Kevin. Josef Sommer as Richard Whittaker. Lynn Redgrave as Helen Whittaker. Garry Shandling as Harold Anderson. Annette Bening as Susan. John Goodman as Roland Jones. Greg Kinnear as Perry Gordon. Ben Kingsley as Graydon. Danny DeVito as Wyatt Rash. Bette Midler as Mona Dearly. William Fichtner as Phil. Casey Affleck as Bobby. Neve Campbell as Ellen. Jamie Lee Curtis as Rona. Johnny Depp as Dean Corso. Frank Langella as Boris Balkan. Lena Olin as Liana Telfer. Emmanuelle Seigner as The Girl. Barbara Jefford as Baroness Kessler. Jack Taylor as Victor Fargas.