Spoilers prefer to read books on Kindle.
Movie adaptations of books are always a compromise or a complete departure from the focus of the original material. I saw this movie in theatres when it came out. I did like the premise and I was ok with the execution as entertainment, but that was it. A few years after, I read the original novel and found it a completely different experience. This is one of my favorite books to read.
The Ninth Gate (1999) was directed by Roman Polanski. The screenplay was written by John Brownjohn, Enrique Urbizu and Roman Polanski. It is based on the novel El Club Dumas from Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Yes, I love the book. I’m reviewing the movie on its own. To be honest, it’s a decent movie. Some parts I do enjoy revisiting. That ending though…
Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a dealer of rare books with loose morals. He gets offered a contract to investigate the authenticity of the rarest of books, The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, just obtained by sinister book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella). Balkan is a full-on Devil fanboy, as you can tell by the code to his private elevator and the combination to this book vault. Corse has also noticed a girl with mismatched socks and green eyes (Emmanuelle Signer).
The aforementioned book infamous claim to fame is that it contains the secret to open the door to Hell. It was written back in the 17th century by author Aristide Torchia, who was said to have collaborated with Lucifer. He was burned at the stake for heresy and all his books destroyed. Only three copies of the book have said to have survived. I love the book lore worldbuilding that goes into all this backstory.
The first book belonged to Andrew Telfer, who sold it to Balkan very shortly before killing himself. Corso takes the book and visits Telfer’s widow, Liana (Lena Olin) who is completely surprised that her deceased husband sold it. Liana will later seduce Corso and try to take the book. Fortunately, Corso has secured it with his friend Bernie (James Russo) who ends up dead.
Corso will then fly to Toledo, Spain. Here he meets the Ceniza brothers, Pablo & Pedro (José López Rodero), previous owners of the book who show him something interesting. All the engravings are signed with Aristide Torchia’s initials, AT. All but three, which are signed LCF. The Ceniza brothers are one of the highlights of the film. They are creepy as hell, but subtle in their ways. I love all the subtle nuances inside this scene.
The second book belongs to Victor Fargas. To meet him, Corso travels to Sintra, Portugal. He ends up finding that the two books differ in the engravings, with some minute details sketched differently. On top of that, three engravings also have the LCF signature, but they are not the same as the one from Balkan’s book. A puzzle appears for Corso to figure it out. The girl with green eyes also reappears just as an attempt is made on Corso’s life. After this, she warns him to revisit Fargas only to find he has met a tragic ending and the second book is destroyed.
The third book belongs to the Baroness Kessler. Corso travels to Paris, France to try to meet her, but the Baroness turns him away after guessing he works for Balkan and explaining she wants nothing of him. Another attacker appears trying to steal the book. Green Eyes (what Corso has decided to call the girl) reappears, curiously landing as she had been in mid-flight and fights the attacker off with ease. She does get hurt by a stray elbow from Corso, which is the only time she seems vulnerable. If that is supposed to mean something, it’s up to you to figure it out.
Corso hides the book and once again revisits the Baroness with copies of the book’s engravings to show her that there are differences in at least Balkan’s and Vargas’ copies. This sparks interest in the Baroness which allows him to take a look at her book. This results in Corso finding the other three engravings signed by LCF and someone knocking him unconscious from behind. When he recovers, the Baroness has suffered a tragic fate and the third book has been destroyed as well.
You’re welcome to discover the details and the conclusion by yourself. The CGI is acceptable but starting to show its age. Langella plays the role of Balkan with the same subtleness of a Bond villain. The Ceniza brothers as performed by José López Rodero, steal the show once they show up and I wish we could see more of them. The finale is over the top and leaves you to assume some sort of divine/infernal intervention of sorts.
Highly recommended with reservations. The finale is sort of disposable standard end-of-days prophetic babble. I would’ve preferred a little less theatrics and something more subtle, but I still don’t mind rewatching this film from time to time. Depp makes the role of Corso, or should I say the movie version of Corso, his own with an acceptable performance. Worth a watch.
That will do for now.