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The Ninth Configuration

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Critics' Reviews

AMG Review
Donald Guarisco
This odd but fascinating film is not for every taste, but those willing to accept its challenging style will find themselves rewarded with a one-of-a-kind film that is both impassioned and inventive. Films like The Ninth Configuration are the reason the genre of "cult movie" was invented: its constantly twisting plot line incorporates elements of the psychological thriller, the social satire, the surrealist comedy, and the allegorical tale without ever fully giving itself over to one style. Writer/director William Peter Blatty further ups the artistic ante by populating his tale with a rogue's gallery of rich, flamboyantly crafted characterizations and giving these characters stunning dialogue that combines heady artistic references, masterfully timed comic zingers, and some surprisingly incisive and heartfelt discourse on religious and philosophical matters. It's the kind of story that could have chased its tail into pretentious oblivion, yet The Ninth Configuration manages to remain grounded thanks to the thorough sense of craftsmanship that all its participants bring to the table. Blatty's direction manages to be stylish without ever feeling obtrusive; he uses Gerry Fisher's darkly atmospheric cinematography to wrap the tale in artful but unobtrusive compositions that give the story room to unfold, but uses sharp editing to maintain a carefully modulated pace that deftly traverses the story's multiple twists. Blatty also gives his actors the freedom to combine humor and heartache in equal measure to flesh out their roles, a tactic that handsomely pays off in a series of unforgettable performances. Scott Wilson combines Groucho Marx-style comedic timing with righteous anger to make his tormented astronaut character feel real, Ed Flanders is alternately witty and moving as the hospital's eccentric but devoted doctor, and Stacy Keach utilizes everything from Buddha-like calm to volcanic range to make Colonel Kane a truly unforgettable protagonist. There are also a variety of scene-stealing supporting turns, two of the biggest standouts being George DiCenzo as a patient with an array of personalities and Steve Sandor as the unhinged biker whose brutal actions kick-start the film's final act. In short, the eccentric and challenging nature of The Ninth Configuration might put some viewers off, but its barrage of thought-provoking ideas and rich craftsmanship make it well worth the effort for adventurous viewers. ~ Donald Guarisco, Rovi
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