The Theory of Chaos

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW - The Da Vinci Code

Full review behind the jump

The Da Vinci Code
: Ron Howard
Writer: Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Dan Brown
Producers: John Calley, Brian Grazer
Stars: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina

The Da Vinci Code is an exercise in overkill. Plodding self-seriously through this adaptation of Dan Brown’s bajillion-selling novel, some of Hollywood’s most beloved craftsmen lavish all their boldly middlebrow attentions on it, begging for our approval. Rarely has more love been put towards the task of getting an “A” for effort.

But the final product is just so much overwrought hooey, which should only impress people who’ve never before conceived of a story in which an innocent man might have to go on the run and solve a mystery; or, more shocking still, in which a major character turns out to be not whom he/she seemed! For the rest of the moviegoing masses, we find only a bloated progression of run-and-deduce calisthenics that masks what is essentially a game of ecclesiastical Trivial Pursuit.

This is beneath the talents of so many of its participants, and yet the smell of a box office “sure thing” brings them all to the set, where they determine to furrow their brows and convince us that they don’t find the premise, the characters, or the convolutions of plot to be at all silly. Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina – these are all creative people who’ve made smashingly good films. But, try though they might, they just can’t put this one over.

The plot – just in case you haven’t heard yet – involves a race to find The Holy Grail. Only it’s not the traditional Grail as cup, but rather the Grail as a metaphor for something else entirely. Robert Langdon (Hanks) deals in metaphors as an expert in religious symbology: an amalgam of history, sociology and puzzle-solving that seeks the root message in hallowed squiggles the world over. He is summoned while giving a lecture in Paris to examine a rather elaborately-decorated corpse sullying the polished floors of the Louvre Museum. The deceased (Jean-Pierre Marielle) was an acquaintance of Langdon’s, and after he was shot in the belly by an albino monk (Paul Bettany) – yes, an albino monk, we’ll deal with him in due time – he used his last few minutes on this Earth to arrange a cryptic message.

And so we have the first of many tests this movie will subject you to – can you countenance the image of an octogenarian, bleeding from the gut, dragging himself around the Museum, planting clues, leaving messages in invisible ink, and finally splaying himself naked on the floor and, with his last breaths, painting religious symbols all over his body? If the image of that never once tugged upward at the side of your mouth, reader, you might just survive this film.

This dead man wanted to show Langdon a path to a grave secret, one that he was murdered over. But the lead investigator, Fache (Jean Reno) is convinced that Langdon himself is the killer. Never mind that, through the magic of cross-cutting, it appears to us that Langdon was giving a speech in front of hundreds of witnesses when the murder occurred. Fache’s suspicion sends Langdon on the lam, with only the aid of young “police cryptographer” Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), the deceased’s granddaughter.

And in the course of the next 24 hours there will be car chases, narrow escapes, a visit to a bank of the most supreme discretion, and the revelation of an earth-shattering cover-up so cunningly guarded by the forces of history that Langdon and Sophie must go all the way to Ian McKellen’s country house to have it explained to them over tea.

McKellen (who adds some dearly-needed insouciance) plays Sir Leigh Teabing, an eccentric historian who, with Gnostic texts, fancy computers and a fair dollop of wishful thinking, has concocted a provocative alternate theory about the life and doings of Jesus Christ, and the fallibility of the Church founded by Men in His name. Although he might have skipped all of his research and just Netflixed Kevin Smith’s Dogma, which posits the same theory and has dick jokes, to boot.

Many of the secrets are connected to or conveyed via the art of Leonardo Da Vinci, who is said to have been a member of a secret organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the Grail until the time is right for its revelation. We first learn this when Langdon realizes that a phrase left by his friend the corpse unscrambles into the artist’s name. The other characters are agog at this cognitive feat, as though none of them ever attempted a Jumble in the Sunday paper.

Howard dips once again into the bag of superfluous special effects as he did in A Beautiful Mind – trying to illustrate our hero’s thought process by lighting up letters and painting images into empty spaces. At one point, as our heroes enter a church, the entire landscape around them changes and crowds of people in period dress swirl into existence. The point of these and other re-enactments along the way is primarily to make the movie more expensive and give us something else to look at. It does not serve to make proceedings any more exciting or enlightening.

There is a little action in the course of an exhausting two-and-a-half hours, much of it unnecessarily goofy. It’s usually instigated by Silas, the afore-mentioned albino monk. He works as a psychotic form of muscle for a Bishop (Alfred Molina) who is trying to snuff out the Grail and all its followers. He is, at least, too conspicuous by half as assassins go, given his pallor and the expression of divine agony he wears all the time. Plus his habit of wrapping barbs around his legs and whipping himself after each kill makes him less agile than you might want. Bettany may have cursed this role by playing it too earnestly, thus exposing its naked ridiculousness.

I have not read the book, so I cannot say how faithfully screenwriter Akiva Goldsman – who never met a yarn he couldn’t lop 30 IQ points off of – has adapted it. If this is genuinely what all the fuss has been about, I can see that there’s a combination of pulp and clearly-explicated arcana that might in book form make, not great literature, but bracing distraction. The Da Vinci Code might be a victim of its own success, binding the filmmakers to an ultimately destructive fidelity. Surely someone along the way heard a little voice in their head whispering – “they’re going to laugh you out of the theatre for that one.” They should have listened.


Post a Comment

<< Home