The Ninth Gate

1999

The Ninth Gate (1999)

TOMATOMETER

Critic Consensus: Even though the film is stylish and atmospheric, critics say The Ninth Gate meanders aimlessly and is often ludicrous. And despite the advertising, there's hardly any chills.

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Movie Info

Dean Corso is highly skilled at his work, a position which requires dexterity, cultural expertise, nerves of steel...and few scruples. Known for locating rare books for wealthy collectors, Corso is hired by eminent book-lover and scholar of demonology, Boris Balkan. Corso's mission: to find the last two volumes of the legendary manual of satanic invocation "The Nine Gates of the Shadow Kingdom," compare them with Balkan's first volume, supposedly the only one of its kind, and ascertain the authenticity of the series. Corso accepts the challenge. From New York to Toledo, Paris to Sintra, he immerses himself in a labyrinth full of pitfalls and temptations, disturbing encounters, violence and mysterious deaths. Protected by an angelic creature and guided by a force more powerful than himself, the hunter solves one by one the mysteries of the dreaded Book and discovers the real purpose of his mission...

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Cast

Johnny Depp
as Dean Corso
Frank Langella
as Boris Balkan
Lena Olin
as Liana Telfer
Barbara Jefford
as Baroness Kessler
Jack Taylor
as Victor Fargas
José Lopez
as Pablo and Pedro Ceniza
Tony Amoni
as Liana's Bodyguard
José Lopez Rodero
as Pablo and Pedro Ceniza
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Critic Reviews for The Ninth Gate

All Critics (88) | Top Critics (26)

Polanski revisits Satan with less than devilish fun.

Sep 14, 2012 | Full Review…

It overstays its welcome by 20 minutes or so, just long enough for us to begin to feel a little silly for having so much fun.

Jan 1, 2000
Newsday
Top Critic

Sexy, sardonic and slightly over the top, it definitely contains Polanski's best work in years.

Jan 1, 2000

Amusing, ultra - deadpan entertainment.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Compulsively watchable.

Jan 1, 2000 | Rating: 6/10

Elegant, scary fun.

Jan 1, 2000

Audience Reviews for The Ninth Gate

½

An engaging, slow-burning satanic thriller in the first hour, but soon the mysteries start to pile up in a plot that leaves too much unanswered (the reason behind the first death, Corso's behavior in the end, etc.), and it falls flat with a very anticlimactic conclusion.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Boris Balkan: You read from this book, but you have no conception of its true power. I alone have grapsed its secret, I alone have fathomed the master's grand design, I alone am worthy to enjoy the fruits of that discovery: absolute power to determine my own destiny! "Leave the Unknown Alone" The Ninth Gate is a very intriguing, compelling, and all around entertaining film from Roman Polanski. Polanski is a director I have meant to start watching more of. Before viewing this I had only seen Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, and The Pianist, all of which were masterpieces in their own rights. The Ninth Gate isn't quite that good, but is a great story to see Polanski in years and years after Rosemary's Baby. This film is drenched in the occult, devil worshipping, references to secret orders of celebrity and political persons(Illuminati). It's a mystical film for sure. Dean Corso is an expert on rare books. He gets a job working for a guy named Balkan who has a very rare and weird collection of priceless books. One of which is The Nine Gates..., which is supposedly a book inscribed from a book that the devil wrote himself. Corso is supposed to track down the only two other surviving books and make sure Balkan's is authentic and see if the others are as well. It doesn't end up being a standard job though, as a lot of weird things begin happening to Dean along his journey. Say what you will about Roman Polanski, but he is a hell of a filmmaker. Although, The Ninth Gate isn't a masterpiece and you could probably poke holes through the story all day if you wanted too; it's still an extremely fun and absorbing movie. It's made in a really old style much like Rosemary's Baby, so although this was made in 1999 starring Johnny Depp, it looks and feels like it should have been made back in the 70's.  This really is worth the watch. The movie has great pacing and there's a lot of questions it brings up. Some of which are answered, some are kind of left up in the air and to the audience. I really did enjoy The Ninth Gate. It's not Polanski at the top of his craft, but it is still Polanski and it's still pretty brilliant.

Melvin White
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

½

Returning to territory he mined with Rosemary's Baby, this is Roman Polanski's second take on Satanic shenanigans. Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, an unscrupulous rare book dealer who often takes on jobs from very wealthy bibliophiles. His latest job sees him having to track down and authenticate three copies of a book said to be able to conjure the Devil himself. Well, given the type of book he's after, it's long before he gets caught up in all sorts of mystery, intrigue, and death. I feel like what I'm about to say applies to most anything, but this really had potential to be good. Besides going back to the Satanic side of the supernatural, the film is a revisit to Polanski's Chinatown in a way, as things play out as a sort of homage/riff on hard boiled film noir. Unfortunately, the film is fairly long, mostly uneventful, and pretty lackluster. It's almost boring in a way I didn't figure a Johnny Depp film could be. It has its moments, but it's largely dull and rathert disappointing. The locations are at least nice, the film is well shot, and the cast, especially Depp, Frank Langella, and Emmanuelle Seigner try their best. They aren't able to salvage things, but it could have probably somehow been worse. If you're just really curious or a completist, then yeah, see it, but for everyone else, just skip right on by.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

With the notable exception of Se7en, numerical horror-thrillers are utter rubbish. With their ridiculous twists, over-the-top acting and an overreliance on special effects, they epitomise all that is banal and disappointing about these two genres. You would think that Roman Polanski, the man who gave us Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, would be able to handle such well-worn material in at least a workable manner. But instead we end up with a ripe old stinker every bit as disappointing as Prince of Darkness. Polanski has always been a fan of absurdist, quirky comedy, being greatly influenced by France's crown prince of absurdity, Eugene Ionesco. While absurdity in and of itself is no bad thing, Polanski has always been at his best when this aspect of his sensibility has been minimised, or at least properly accommodated. You have to admire him for being able to switch between bleak, serious works like Tess and The Pianist, and something more fun and frothy like Frantic. But his out-and-out exercises in comedy have dated very badly, with What? being the worst example. Further doubts are raised by Polanski's attitude towards the source material. When interviewed in 1999 he said that he didn't believe in the supernatural - something you would never have guessed from Rosemary's Baby. He was drawn to the novel El Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte because it was an opportunity to play with the clichés of a genre that he enjoyed. The consequence is that we aren't sure how seriously Polanski is taking things, and therefore how seriously we should be taking him. The Ninth Gate starts off quite atmospherically, with good pacing, dusty books and nice gothic colours. Film noir touches are evident throughout, from the archetype of the downbeat detective (or "book detective" in this case) to the enigmatic women in his life. Like so many noirs or Hitchcock films, the blond is enigmatic but for the most part on the hero's side, while the brunette is seductive and passionate to the point of being pure evil. Having set things up quite nicely in the first ten minutes, The Ninth Gate starts to crumble as more and more ridiculous elements encroach. We might swallow the story about the three copies of The Nine Gates, if only because Frank Langella sounds authoritative as he wades through exposition. But subsequent developments are so clouded or convoluted that we quickly give up trying to figure it all out, insofar as there is anything to figure out. It feels like the sort of thing that Polanski could have done in his sleep - and for much of the film, he might as well have done. All the big plot points in The Ninth Gate can be anticipated because they borrow all too heavily from better genre efforts. Having Dean Corso commissioned to search for The Nine Gates is exactly the same set-up as Angel Heart, but with a book instead of a jazz musician. His infiltration of a secret ceremony is lifted from The Wicker Man, and the mansion scenes strongly resemble Eyes Wide Shut, although this may be coincidental. There are also very standard references to The Omen in the use of 666, for instance, The NINE Gates being published in 1666. There is even a nod to An American Werewolf in London, as Corso arrives at the castle in a truck full of sheep. Having given up on taking The Ninth Gate seriously, the next logical step is to try and enjoy it as a comedy, perhaps as an unintentional one. But the comedic elements are so completely at odds with Polanski's execution of the twists that they feel like they have escaped from a different film. The twin brothers, who are played by the same actor via split screen, bumble their way through their lines like a cross between Thomson and Thompson from Tintin and Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part. The silliness of the supporting characters increases as the film moves on. Baroness Kessler, played by Barbara Jefford, is introduced as a formidable character of real threat to Dean Corso - who then slips almost immediately into pantomime villain mode when we discover that she only has one hand. Corso later finds her slumped in her motorised wheelchair having been strangled: he turns the wheelchair around, only for her to go careering through the double doors, like Mason Verger's death in Hannibal two years later. Like many numerical thrillers, The Ninth Gate suffers from dodgy special effects. It's hardly a dull car crash like End of Days, in which Gabriel Byrne demonstrates his demonic power by blowing everything up, and Arnold Schwarzenegger try to stop him with a grenade launcher. But alongside bad continuity and an unconvincingly burnt book, there are at least two examples of dodgy wire work, in which Emmanuelle Seigner floats down into a scene, without any prior clue that she could fly. The Ninth Gate is littered with irritating plot holes which leaving us scratching our heads even in the moments when generic convention could fill in the gaps. There is no explanation of the serpent tattoo on the brunette's back, nor of Boris Balkan's ability to know exactly where Corso is at any one time - which is, conveniently, always within reach of a phone. But more annoying than either of these is Polanski's contempt for the subject matter. It's hard to believe that either Corso or Balkan know or care so much about rare tomes when they treat them so carelessly. They don't bother to handle them with gloves, flip through ancient pages like they were airport paperbacks and carry them around in scruffy bags which get flung everywhere. This care-free attitude spills over into the performances. Johnny Depp had wanted to work with Polanski for some time, but Polanski didn't tell him that he wasn't giving the performance that he wanted - in other words, he was almost completely undirected in the role. To be fair to Depp, he gets the physical stuff right, modelling himself on Raymond Chandler and being more convincing than he is in Secret Window. But otherwise it's pretty phoned-in, with Polanski being unable or unwilling to tease out the greatness that Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam had managed. Frank Langella is no stranger to trashy villains, having played Skeletor in the awful He-Man movie, Masters of the Universe. He does the best with a surprisingly underwritten role, looking a little bit like Michael Redgrave in The Dambusters. Lena Orin has far too little to do beyond flashing her stocking tops in the first half-hour and then dressing up like the actress from Scottish Widows for the satanic ceremony. As for Seigner, she does a good demon stare, but otherwise she's too airy-fairy, wafting through the scenery as if she doesn't really care who she's playing or what she's doing. In any case, it's essentially the same character she plays in Frantic - the quirky outsider who helps the male protagonist, only this time she's the devil as well. The final nail in The Ninth Gate's coffin comes with its ending, which is hopelessly dragged out and completely incoherent. We get to see Langella self-immolate and fail to pass through the Ninth Gate - but that's not the end. Seigner makes love to Depp against the flames with her demon eyes, the camera zooms in on Depp as if he realises who she is all along, and he seems about to scream - but that's not the end. After the two drive back, and Seigner remarks "is that it?" (to which the answer is "no"), Depp goes back to the bookshop and finds the missing page - but that's not the end. Depp then goes back to the castle and the screen fades to white, in one of the most shambolic and unsatisfying endings in 1990s cinema. The Ninth Gate is an example of what happens when a great director indulges themself to the extent that they no longer feel the need to try. As an exercise in supernatural horror it is every bit as rubbish as Prince of Darkness: Polanski's film looks better, but Carpenter's was shorter. In attempting to put his stamp on overly familiar elements, Polanski fails to deliver chills, thrills or knowing laughs. Thank God that he redeemed himself beyond all recognition just three short years later.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

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