cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, and Jean Reno
director: Ron Howard
174 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.40:1
Sony blu-ray Region B retail
reviewed by Steven Hampton
Religious nutcases… They are the biggest curse on our modern world’s tolerance for belief over rationality.
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So, then, any self-styled ‘heretical’ text aiming to undermine god’s “power on Earth” (or the church’s dogmatic stance on it) has to be fine, right? The script for this movie based on Dan Brown’s (reportedly bestselling) novel must have glowed in the dark when it found its way – from Akiva Goldsman, scripter of Grisham and Gotham for Schumacher (not to mention that Lost In Space movie and most tellingly, with reference to this encoding of Da Vinci, A Beautiful Mind) – into some harried studio green-lighter’s sweaty hands. With his curious affinity for ‘fantasy females’ (see Splash, Cocoon, Willow), a genre trope of some import when viewing – with hindsight – the secret nature of this film’s heroine, it must have seemed like a dream project for director Ron Howard. With its guaranteed audience of the easily intrigued and the faithless, and a production that reunites Howard with his Apollo 13 star Tom Hanks, this picture was destined for greatness, surely? Well, perhaps not, because…
Tom Hanks portrays Professor Robert Langdon, a historical researcher on a lecture tour, in Paris to promote his new book on feminine symbolism through the ages. In one of those banal openings beloved of Hollywood thrillers, the American Langdon is called upon by French police, fronted by Captain Fache (a weary Jean Reno, Just Visiting, Ronin, Crimson Rivers, Godzilla), to help with inquires into an apparently heinous murder at The Louvre museum. There’s a butchered priest, within sight of the world-famous Mona Lisa (though not the real one, of course, as no filmmakers would ever get permission to aim movie-lights at such a treasured portrait), and the doggedly unimaginative Fache immediately suspects that Langdon was responsible for, or at least complicit in, the French clergyman’s death. Thankfully, agent Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou, wasted here, and still best known for Amélie), a local police analyst specialising in cryptology, arrives in good time to warn Langdon that he’s in the frame and they escape together, cleverly evading pursuit by Fache’s minions.
As we have already witnessed the priest’s shooting by Silas, the albino assassin and self-flagellating monk (Paul Bettany, Inkheart, The Reckoning, Gangster No.1), it’s really no surprise to learn that arcane symbols carved on the dead man’s bare chest were, in fact, done by the victim himself, not by his killer. Blood trails lead up to yet more clues, so the plot thickens, yet our pulses do not quicken. “Can’t be that easy,” remarks unlikely action-hero Langdon, breaking coded messages and solving anagrams on the fly. Ah, but it is. Matters of ‘life and death’ ought not to be dramatised with such a dull, witless, and sedentary pace. And what’s more…
Alfred Molina plays evil Catholic bishop Manuel. A sinfully one-dimensional portly schemer (obviously, due for a comeuppance in the showdown finale), that’s quite a comedown from Molina’s winning portrayal of mad cyborg Doctor Octopus in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. There are Vatican speeches about “god’s mafia” standing in opposition to “cafeteria catholics,” while numerous riddles, secret keys, and hidden clues, reveal only ancient myths, baffling enigmas and globe-spanning conspiracies galore, including but not only, the cultish Opus Dei, profoundly obsessed bad-guys that lurk in shadows, and templar knights of the Priory of Sion, so-called guardians of ultimate knowledge about the muddled origins of Christianity, and the shocking truth about Jesus (he’s not the messiah, he was… just another false prophet, really, only chosen by a secret committee as figurehead for their disastrous and repressive cause). Stuck into the largely-narrated storyline, there are flashbacks to horrors of ancient Rome, the bloody Crusades, and witch hunts in the middle ages. The stuffy academic dialogue and relentless expository monologues include – without irony – the despairing line: “God, give me strength.” This lavishly produced ‘drama’ proved so utterly boring, at times, that, if I wasn’t such a disbelieving atheist, I’d have been inclined to pray for some divine assistance, too. There is nothing inherently wrong with films about conspiracy theories, as long as filmmakers do not forget to include some action, suspense and tension, and revelations of a worthwhile nature, even if what’s finally revealed has no actual relevance to real-world political concerns and is only meaningful within the fictional scenario created for the plot.
As crotchety old authority on biblical scriptures, woolly eccentric Sir Leigh Teabing, at least Ian McKellan gets into the spirit of pulp adventure when The Da Vinci Code taps into the tomb- and treasure-hunting vibe of Raiders Of The Lost Ark (and its sequels), but sanctimonious Howard and Hanks’ deliberately timid focus on telling, not showing, establishes a humourless contrast to action heroics and international daring of National Treasure, and pure comic-book genre fun of those Lara Croft – Tomb Raider movies. Embarking on a quest for a king-of-cups version of the Holy Grail? Ha, the Jones boys found that, 20 years ago, in their Last Crusade. It comes as no surprise, whatsoever, that a contrived twist-ending for The Da Vinci Code so tactfully avoids presenting irrefutable or even vaguely convincing evidence about anything in particular, leaving the whole enterprise a compromised and insincere offering with no more veracity than Bermuda triangle mysteries, and Erich von Däniken’s theories of ancient astronauts.
All told, this film deserves only a mark or two, at most, granted for its time-wasting bemusement value. Frankly, the only astounding thing about this whole film is that anyone (except for the canny McKellan, obviously) involved with such a cheerlessly preposterous wannabe-blockbuster thriller actually managed to keep a straight face throughout all the farcical smugness and unintentionally hilarious nonsense.
At time of writing, Tom Hanks is due to return as Prof. Langdon (this time, against wicked Illuminati terrorism!) in Howard’s prequel Angels & Demons.
Blu-ray disc extras: exclusive first look at Angels & Demons, director’s commentary on this extended cut of the film, and Unlocking The Code picture-in-picture video. Disc two contains 17 featurettes of behind-the-scenes material (with ‘BD Live’).