In 1999, Johnny Depp teamed up with director Roman Polanski to star in The Ninth Gate, a supernatural thriller that was loosely based on the 1993 novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte called The Club Dumas.
Depp stars as Dean Corso, a rare book dealer who is hired to locate and authenticate the remaining copies of The Nine Gate of the Shadow Kingdom, by a wealthy businessman Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) who wants to know which of the copies is authentic and which are forgeries. The book is reputed to have been co-authored by Satan himself and unlocking the secrets of the book enable the owner to summon the devil.
Corso’s greed and arrogance quickly lead him to become entangled in a satanic conspiracy after several of the people involved with the books are found murdered.
Depp plays Corso with a self-assured confidence benefiting his character. His supreme confidence is exhibited in an early scene when he suavely swindles a couple out of their invalid father’s rare Don Quixote manuscript by playing into their greed. This contrasted with Corso’s vulnerability when physically confronted makes for an interesting character.
During Corso’s travels to authenticate the manuscripts he crosses paths on several occasions with a strange young woman with green eyes. After he confronts her they form an unspoken alliance of sorts, with the girl showing up unexpectedly when Dean needs her the most.
As the film builds to its climax, Dean and the audience begin to piece together the mystery of the Ninth Gates manuscript and how all the players fit together.
The film is one of those supernatural horror films that does a good job of creeping you out without relying on cheap scares, blood or gore. I enjoyed Depp’s strong performance in this and would almost put it on par with his role in Donnie Brasco. The only reason I think I wouldn’t elevate it to that level is because The Ninth Gate is lacking a strong foil for Depp to interact with. Depp relies on a lot on reaction shots in the film and his expressive face does not let him down. For those who like their Depp films with a bit of sex and Johnny bare chested, there’s definitely some of that going on here as Dean Curoso is seduced by two of the principal female characters.
Despite Polanski’s abhorrent personal history he still has talent as a director and this picture has some great shots and timeless feel to it. Depp in interviews said that working with the notoriously rigid Polanski was tough after working for someone as free as Tim Burton, but was thankful for the experience.
By The Numbers
- 4th film in which Depp’s character wears glasses. The round glasses he wears for the first half of the film have been identified as Savile Row Beaufort Panto
- 3rd film in which Depp’s character has some form of facial hair.
Next up is another 1999 flick Astronaut’s Wife starring Charlize Theron as the wife to Depp’s Astronaut.