Friday, May 25, 2007

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

What a waste of talent. I don't plan to spend too much time or too many words writing about this one. Based on the phenomenally successful book of the same name by Dan Brown (which I now have no desire to read), this adaptation directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva 'Batman & Robin' Goldsman (boo) consumed a lot of money and brought together some great actors to produce a mediocre film. I guess it was a worthwhile fiscal investment given the amount of money it made worldwide.

'The Da Vinci Code' revolves around Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a Harvard Professor of Religious Symbology who is in France to give a lecture. The curator of the Louvre is shot by a weird albino monk (Paul Bettany), a servant of the Christian sect Opus Dei, just after he reveals the location of an ultra secret item. The monk intended to kill him but does a half assed job and the curator doesn't die immediately. Instead, he has enough time in between bleeding to death to run around with his magic marker writing cryptic anagrams in invisible ink, drawing a pentagram on his body, and laying down on the floor in the pose of Leonardo's 'Vitruvian Man' before finally giving up the ghost. I realize lots of people have made fun of this opening, but it really is such a hilarious plot device to start off with that I just had to mention it; it highlights a simple truth about this story, which is that it is ludicrous. Langdon becomes a suspect in the murder, and he and a police cryptographer named Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), the curator's granddaughter, flee the scene of the crime and attempt to follow the clues to figure out the secret the curator died for. On their tail is uptight police captain Fache (Jean Reno) and the albino monk, Silas, who discovers that he was duped about the location of the secret item. Langdon and Sophie basically bounce around from one place to the other, solving riddles that uncover a plot involving the Knights Templar and the Church that goes back to the origin of Christianity itself. Along the way a scholar named Sir Teabing (Ian McKellan) joins them in their quest.

The story, such as it is, is just one long chase interspersed with the occasional simplistic puzzle (seriously, for a secret this big and with puzzles created by intellectuals you'd think the solutions wouldn't be so... basic) and scenes of exposition where the profound truth behind the massive conspiracy is unveiled. The actual logic posited as proof is tenuous but since the counter-arguments against the conspiracy theory are presented as mere lip service, viewers can infer which version is real is fairly early on and are forced to watch the heroes act surprised for the umpteenth time as all the wild theories turn out to be true. As a thriller, there's scant little in the way of thrills and excitement, with many of the twists telegraphed well in advance. Even the ones that aren't as easily guessable arrive with more of a whimper than a bang. The story just isn't as clever as it thinks it is, and the characters and their conversations are simply not compelling; the characters are bland and reactive, and have very little in the way of depth or personality. The two protagonists both have experienced traumatic events in their childhoods, and Langdon is claustrophobic, and that's about it. This character deficiency is compounded by the fact that with the exception of McKellen, everyone else is bland, including the normally vivacious Audrey Tautou. Tom Hanks, Paul Bettany, Audrey Tautou, Jürgen Prochnow, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina - an incredible line up of actors who barely register in this.

Despite the varied locations, the film is visually uninspiring; add to that a forgettable score, and the end result is a film that can barely be classified as mediocre. It takes itself way too seriously, but I suppose that's a trait inherited from the source material. National Treasure is a good example of a much more entertaining take on a similarly outrageous story involving puzzles and conspiracies. I'd much rather watch that again, because it aims to entertain. This film, on the other hand, aims to inspire awe and thought while being thrilling. It misses the mark by a long way.

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