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Rated 3.05 stars
by 1396 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Johnny Depp Enriches THE NINTH GATE
by Betty Jo Tucker

Can a film be both slow moving and fascinating at the same time? If it stars Johnny Depp, the answer is yes.This exceptional actor mesmerizes me no matter how unusual his role. Whether playing Edward Scissorhands, Gilbert Grape, Don Juan DeMarco, or Ichabod Crane, he holds my attention like a magician about to reveal important secrets.

By lending his acting magic to The Ninth Gate, Depp makes director Roman Polanski’s sometimes plodding new thriller worth watching. His understated portrayal of Dean Corso, a book broker who specializes in tracking down rare volumes for rich people, adds a touch of reality to this bizarre story of the supernatural. Beautiful European locations help too.

Based on El Club Dumas, a bestseller by Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Ninth Gate depicts a search for three copies of a seventeenth-century book that holds the secret to summoning the Devil. Corso (Depp) has been hired by Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), a wealthy publisher obsessed with books about Satan. Langella (Dracula), projecting a sinister elegance, is perfectly cast as a man who believes the end justifies the means. In addition, Lena Olin (Mr. Jones) and Emmanuelle Seigner (Frantic) smolder as sexy objects of suspicion.

Nevertheless, The Ninth Gate belongs to Depp. I agree with filmmaker Polanski’s assessment of Depp’s work in this film. The veteran director (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, etc.) states, "The way he played it gave an unexpected color to the character. I imagined Corso a bit differently, but Johnny always sounds right when he says a line. He never sounds phony, there’s never a wrong tone in his delivery."

A surprising nostalgic atmosphere permeates The Ninth Gate. It evokes memories of those old detective flicks featuring Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum. Like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, Corso interviews intriguing characters during his assignment for Balkan. And, as he goes deeper into the case, he becomes more and more passionate about his mission. However, Corso is not a sympathetic protagonist. His mercenary ambitions and cynicism are too powerful. Depp deserves credit for making me care what happens to the lead character in spite of his negative qualities.

Don’t expect mind-numbing special effects here comparable to those in other films about the Devil. Nor is The Ninth Gate for anyone who prefers fast-action thrillers. This movie is no Exorcist, Devil’s Advocate, or Stigmata. It’s something much better --- a more thorough exploration of how individuals can become obsessed with evil.

(Released by Artisan Entertainment and rated "R" for violence, nudity, and sexuality.)

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