22 May 2006

Movie Review: "The DaVinci Code"

What if the world's greatest works of art held a secret that could change history as we know it? Dan Brown's theological thriller The Da Vinci Code, one of the most popular novels of our time and translated into 44 languages, is brought to the big screen by Director Ron Howard and Writer Akiva Goldsman in this theological thriller.

But what if one of the most anticipated films of the summer release season bombed at the box office? Jobs will be lost, staff reshuffling will occur. The Knights of Templar-wood will pay!

As usual, Tom Hanks plays his everyman character, here as Harvard Symbologist professor, Robert Langdon. With his Mr. Potato Man features slimmed down somewhat by his longer hair, Hanks could have easily called in instead of showing up for work each day. He has zero charisma and absolutely no connection whatsoever with his leading lady Audrey Taoutou, who's French-accented English is so hard to understand that one could easily miss a full third of her dialog. This obvious lack of charisma between his two leads must have forced Director Howard to add scenes to prove to the audience that a spark existed between them. This leads to too many unnecessary scenes that are there simply for the sake of proving to the audience that there is some connection between the two. And that leads to this film ending up a pointless and unwieldy 2 hours and 32 minutes. Bring a pillow.

Considering that most people in the known world have by now read The DaVinci Code it seems unnecessary to mention the plot, but the film begins with Langdon receiving an urgent late-night phone call that sets the plot in motion. The elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered, his naked body posed in an imitation of DaVinci's Vitruvian Man with a bloody pentagram drawn on his naked chest, and with the security gates to the gallery down and locked. Lying nearby, police find a strange message written in code that they can't understand. Enter Hanks, who was scheduled to meet the curator and is the prime candidate under suspicion for his murder, and Audrey Tautou, the beautiful, young (is there any other kind of heroine in the movies?) French cryptographer, and who just happens to be the curator's granddaughter. The two team up to solve the crime so they can stay one step ahead of French Captain Bezu Fache, played by the always interesting Jean Reno, and out of a French prison.

In a non-stop race around Paris and London the two discover that the late curator was a member of the Priory of Scion, a secret society involved in international banking and other nefarious affairs, and whose members include historical luminaries such as DaVinci, Botticelli, Christopher Columbus, Victor Hugo, and Sir Isaac Newton. During the Crusades The Priory supported the Knights Templar (also sometimes referred to as The Illuminati) whose members took an oath to protect the roads to the Holy Land, and later - as this story goes - to protect the spawn of Jesus' union with Mary Magdalene. Together the two race around some of Western Europe's most beautiful sites to uncover clues, puzzles, and cryptic codes to solve the riddle while trying to evade Reno's lawmen and a weird, creepy albino monk into self-flagellation and stalking the two leads with the help of Opus Dei Bishop Manuel Aringarosa (Alfred Molina), and played to the hilt by Paul Bettany. With additional over-acting by the usually compelling Ian McKellan as cripple Leigh Teabing who Langdon turns to for help as a last resort, The DaVinci Code rates as a film with some of the most over-acted roles so far this year. Screenwriter Goldsman and Director Howard will not be in line for an Oscar come Academy season, but their work will most likely interest scores of the curious. The DaVinci Code is a dense story packed with fascinating arcane detail and Goldsman needed a good screenplay editor to make the story move along faster. A good 30-40 minutes could have been edited out of this film without anyone missing a beat.

Some of the most interesting scenes were the flashbacks filmed as though we are watching ancient events through a veil. Even without dialog or any recognizable characters, these flashbacks provide some of the more interesting moments in the film and I would have like to see them expanded.

You will see copious "news" stories on The DaVinci Code in the next few weeks as this film opens across the US. Don't mistake the Christians who speak out, either for and against the film, as they all see it as the same thing - an opportunity to connect with possible converts to their beliefs. Proceed with caution.

Digital Dogs rating: B- Read the book again while waiting for the DVD or Cable TV release.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content... though I must say we didn't notice any of the above.

A Columbia Pictures (Sony) and Imagine Entertainment release. Director Ron Howard, Screenplay Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown. Producers Brian Grazer, John Calley.

Running time: 2 hours, 32 minutes
Watch the trailer: The DaVinci Code
Crack the Code: Play The DaVinci Code Quest


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