Watched The Ninth Gate (1999) last night – that Roman Polanski film with Johnny Depp.
Such a strange film – at times you feel like you are being guided tentatively by a cinema master, at other times it feels like I’m back at film school watching amateur hour. Not to be too negative, but I found these constant lurches so off-putting, and accidentally hilarious.
Take for example the above image – it could be horrible, but certainly in the context of the film, it isn’t. Especially considering that the above reveal comes complete with ‘dun, dun, DUNNN!!!!’ soundtrack, before something even more terrible befalls the tongue-wagging lady. It could all have been unsettling, but because of the lurching tone, it comes across as funny. Actually a little hilarious. And I genuinely guffawed when I saw the exact frame above.
There are moments of barbarically bad wirework also, which again, I’m sure were supposed to be shocking – in fact, they were just laugh out loud.
So I was thinking, while watching, that maybe Polanski is more comfortable with more traditional dramatic scenes than action beats, but the film comes unstuck there too. For example, when Depp finds his mate has been killed (rather horribly I might add), his body dangling upside down from a stairwell, his overall reaction is ‘meh’. His face barely registers the discovery. And that ‘meh’ infected me – why should I care about this guy if he clearly doesn’t?
Overall, it was an accidentally hilarious piece of cinema, bolstered by a cripplingly great (and funny) turn from Frank Langella. At times lush, at times pure nonsense. Glad I’ve seen it nonetheless.