Johnny Depp encounters evil in THE NINTH GATE
“Mumbo Jumbo! Mumbo Jumbo!”
In 1999 Director Roman Polanski returned to familiar territory with the devilishly entertaining supernatural mystery-thriller The Ninth Gate. Johnny Depp plays Dean Corso a rare book dealer who is in the business primarily to make big money and use his expertise to scam clients that don’t know what they’ve got in their possession. When he gets a call from wealthy, astute collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) in regards to a new title he’s acquirred, Corso pays a visit. This work of literature is The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows written by a 17th century author named Aristide Torchia and believed to be a copy of a book written by the Devil himself. It was sold to Balkan by bibliophile Andrew Telfer who was found dead from suicide after the sale occurred. Balkan knows Corso dislikes him but is assured that his love of cash will entice him to take the job authenticating the other copies in existance which he believes to be fakes. Not long after Balkan gives the book to Corso, Telfer’s widow Liana (Lena Olin) comes looking for it but she fails in obtaining it after seducing him one night. Corso then hops a plane to Europe where he begins his investigation of the books. This work takes him through the countries of Spain, Portugal and France. Wherever he goes a mysterious blond woman (Emmannuelle Seigner) appears and seems to be trailing him. Along the way he experiences freak accidents and meets several odd characters some of whom are out to stop him from doing his work. As he continues his search, Corso uncovers more than he bargained for, something extremely sinister and deadly.
The Ninth Gate was based on a spanish novel called El Club Dumas by Arturo Perez Reverte. Roman Polanski read it and thought it lent itself especially well to cinema so he and fellow screenwriter John Brownjohn deleted some aspects to make it flow better for a film adaptation. One detail was the character Dean Corso, who was initially an older man (around 40). Polanski had wanted to work with Johnny Depp who was only 34 at the time of the production so they made him look more that age. This character unlike many of his others was rather unquirky but Depp gave him a cool quality with his scholarly persona and shrewd attitude. Corso was very much in the tradition of classic noir icons as Mike Hammer and Philip Marlowe. Only instead of gangsters and gun molls there was ancient books and Satanists.
Now, I’ve watched this film many times over the years and it’s sort of tough to pinpoint why it plays so well due to its bizarre subject matter and offbeat nature. I think Polanski’s visual stylization and gift for dark humor are two reasons. The film has an eerie nightmarish quality about it. It’s like a supernatural film noir that manages to keep you intrigued from start to finish. Upon its release The Ninth Gate wasn’t a huge hit but has since become an occult classic with a uniquely furious style.