One of the strangest things about The Da Vinci Code is how both the film and the novel seem to hold up spectacularly in your memory and in discussion until you have a lazy Saturday to throw it back into rotation. What you’ll discover is tantalising historical conspiracy presented like a university professor talking to pre-schoolers.
When Jacques Saunière (Jean-Pierre Marielle), curator of the Louvre is murdered, he uses his final gasps of life to leave the clues for symbologist (a made up profession) Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) that lead him through the works of Leonardo Da Vinci toward a religious mystery protected by a secret society for two thousand years.
In defence of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and director Ron Howard, they were all but forced to slavishly adhere to the text during their adaptation of Dan Brown’s pulp juggernaut. There would have been more controversy than the novel’s challenge of religious doctrine, would have been to deviate from the novel’s best-selling narrative. Thusly Goldman’s script becomes a slowly paced conspiracy theory visual essay, with cripplingly laborious exposition.
Howard is one of the most versatile filmmakers working Hollywood. No stone in subject or genre has gone unturned. So in comparison to his visual and tonal choices that leap out of the screen at you in works such as Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon or Rush, this Euro-thriller feels like it’s been constructed to avoid stylistic flurry. Stage after stage of softly lit sacred sites that are presented simply to establish where the characters have been lead to solve their next puzzle piece than be emotionally reflective of the character’s arc. Let’s face it, Langdon doesn’t have an arc. To be brutally honest, Howard, Goldsman and their leading man all wrestle with the fact Langdon single dimension as a sceptical, puzzle solver that stands aloof from the inflammatory findings.
Hanks, doesn’t seem to get a handle on Langdon. Despite having the computing capability of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, and a mullet that even Joe Dirt would approve, he doesn’t feel like a world renowned and formidable historical intellectual mind. When he’s placed in front of Sir Ian McKellan’s Sir Leigh Teabing, the wily old conspiracy philanthropist, you don’t feel like you’re watching a meeting of amazing minds, it feels like reading an IMDB (internet movie database) comment thread aloud.
Audrey Tatou, an incredible staple of French cinema most known for Amelie, is reduced to saying derivations of the phrase “What is this?” to allow this interactive, PowerPoint presentation adventure articulate its point. While a character that’s essentially a plot device works in the context of Dan Brown’s narrative structure, its rigid, inanimate, poise sticks out like the proverbial in the film. Paul Bettany’s albino bad guy cliché Silas, is humanised somewhat by his ability to convey the torturous internal and physical torment of blind belief. And let’s take on final pause for a moment to discuss Alfred Molina’s character name; Bishop Manuel Aringarosa. Aringarosa?! Seriously someone near Dan Brown, punch him in the face.
Early in The Da Vinci Code, one of the most affective scenes in the film takes place; Howard takes us through the self-mutilation ceremonies of Bettany’s Silas. Perhaps the subversive genius of this scene is that it foreshadows how you feel as audience member by the conclusion.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Akiva Goldsman (based on the book by Dan Brown)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina, Jean-Pierre Marielle