From the March1, 2000 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
An unscrupulous rare-book dealer (Johnny Depp) is hired by a wealthy demonologist (Frank Langella) to track down and authenticate the remaining copies of a medieval illustrated book apparently authored or coauthored by Satan himself. This Roman Polanski feature, which he adapted with Enrique Urbizu and John Brownjohn from Arturo Perez-Reverte’s best-selling Spanish novel El Club Dumas, is a head scratcher in some respects, a mystery thriller that gradually mutates into a metaphysical fable without adequately developing its characters. But it’s so visually striking, so compulsively watchable as storytelling, and so personal even in its enigmas that I found it much more pleasurable than any of the Hollywood genre films I’ve seen lately; despite the fact that it’s 132 minutes long, I felt more regret than relief when it ended. Polanski is one of the few remaining directors of craft belonging to the classic novelistic tradition of Welles and Kubrick, and if this picaresque adventure lacks the conviction of Bitter Moon, it’s at least as good as Frantic. With Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Barbara Jefford; the sleek cinematography is by Darius Khondji (Seven, Stealing Beauty). (JR)