A ritualistic murder has been committed in the Louvre Museum in France, and all signs point to Harvard Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), an authority on symbols. Even though he’s not involved in the murder, Langdon understands its implication and how it will unlock an ancient mystery hidden by forces both good and evil.
What Langdon has stumbled upon is The Da Vinci Code, a popular summer page-turner which divided camps and has been the source of protests and vilification. To be honest, I never read Dan Brown’s novel, so don’t expect me to make comparisons. This review is based solely on the cinematic experience and, using those criteria, The Da Vinci Code is an OK thriller that seems a little long.
Talk about a backhanded compliment, but The Da Vinci Code is just another summer movie for people who like pulp in their cinematic orange juice. It features a strong performance by Hanks and equally strong direction by Ron Howard, exotic locations, striking cinematography and interesting actors. Take away the red herrings, religious babble and the book’s enormous popularity, and The Da Vinci Code is only moderately entertaining or engaging.
Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman manages to make sense out of it all, dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s, giving director Howard more than enough to work with. Perhaps too much. By its nature, The Da Vinci Code is reduced to a chase thriller and, when all is said, and said again, the film has nowhere to go but to the finish line. The problem is, we’re standing there, waiting for the rest of the film to cross.
The filmmakers manage the occasional wind sprint, leaving us breathless with their collective storytelling skills. The moments when the film doesn’t stop dead in its tracks, we feel like we are on a runaway train, barreling down the track, helpless except to hold on and wish for the best. These scenes, when dark becomes light and the story grips us, are perfect examples of great filmmaking. Howard and Hanks work well together, and their continuing union allows them to trust each other. Director and star take tremendous leaps of faith during the film, but do so with such assurance we forgive them.
Not that they need our forgiveness. The Da Vinci Code is bulletproof, so even when the characters and filmmakers toss themselves into the line of fire, we know the popularity of the book is going to deflect any real damage. Fortunately, The Da Vinci Code doesn’t need defending. Like any good book, it’s a page-turner. Some pages are filled with colorful words and characters, others are filled with boring supposition and detail. Goldsman makes an earnest effort to reconcile both halves, giving us a thoughtful thriller which works overtime to make its case.
The Da Vinci Code has all the ingredients of a crackerjack thriller, including a prize at the bottom of the box. Hanks makes an intriguing hero — smart, flawed and determined to learn the truth. When Professor Langdon is summoned to the Louvre, he quickly learns he’s gone from an authority to a suspect in the murder. Langdon is instantly dismissed as a suspect by French police officer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who believes something more sinister is afoot.
Indeed, the more Langdon and Neveu investigate, the deeper they find themselves buried in an ancient mystery dating back to the time of Christ, a secret two factions of the Church have been battling to keep under wraps. The secret, which has made the book, and thus the film, the subject of attacks from religious radicals, is truly inspiring, food for thought for those not willing to starve their minds.
I always find it disturbing when people use faith as a weapon. Some have been attacking the film without seeing it, blind leading the blind. Their argument — you don’t have to stick your hand in a beehive to know it’s going to sting — is silly. I’ve seen enough America’s Funniest Home Videos to know there are people who can hang hundreds of bees on their faces without getting stung. I’m not saying you have to stick your hand in the hive, but until you’re willing to, you’re not allowed to make indefensible statements.
I doubt The Da Vinci Code will rock anyone’s faith, and if it does, then they really didn’t have much faith to begin with. It’s a movie, not a great movie, and perhaps that is its greatest sin. With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, you really expect more. With tighter editing, Howard could pick up the flow and help keep us in it.
Once the mystery starts to unfold, heavy exposition begins to take its toll. There’s a lot of history and mystery being tossed about and, while it’s important we understand what’s going on, sometimes it feels like Goldsman is ready to drag out that dead horse.
You have to admire the production for its impressive design, unique locations and universal cast, all of which are inviting. Tautou, the engaging star of Amelie, is quite good, shading the French investigator with enough nuance and ambiguity to keep us at bay. Ian McKellen pops up as an expert on the Holy Grail, a mystery man made even more mysterious by the masterful actor. Framing Langdon is by-the-book Captain Fache, an etched-in-cement performance by Jean Reno.
Alfred Molina and Paul Bettany are extremely ominous as an evil Bishop and his albino henchman. It’s hard to take any of this seriously enough to be offended, so leave your prejudices at the door and enjoy the ride.