Friday, November 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Sir Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina, Jean Reno
Running Time: 149 min.

Rating: PG-13

*** (out of ****)

I'd be lying if I told you I understood every single thing that happened in The Da Vinci Code. However, I'd also be lying if I told you I didn't enjoy most of it and that the pieces came together by the end. I haven't read Dan Brown's controversial blockbuster bestseller on which the movie is based since I usually make it a point not to read the book if I know I'm going to see the movie. This time that was easy since religious history (real of fictional) isn't a topic I have a lot of knowledge on nor one that interests me greatly. There was a lot of head scratching going on for me during the first hour as we're fed an incredible amount of information in a short time span before we're off and running. By the end, though, I really enjoyed it and found myself absorbed in the gigantic cover-up at the film's center. The final hour really delivers with two twists I didn't see coming and a strong conclusion. Anyone who hated or was offended by the novel will likely think the same of the film. Those who enjoyed the book will probably find much to like about the adaptation.

When the curator of the Museum Louvre in France is murdered, symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) and French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) discover secret codes and puzzles embedded in Da Vinci's Mona Lisa that reveal Sophie's grandfather to be part of a secret religious society known as the "Priory of Sion." This society holds a secret that if revealed would shake up the entire foundation of humankind and a demented albino monk named Silas (a frightening Paul Bettany) will go to any lengths to protect it. Even if that includes killing Langdon and Sophie to prevent them from uncovering the "real" Holy Grail.

They find themselves on the run and enlist the help of crippled historian Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian McKellen) to help solve the mystery and discover the true meaning and location of the Grail. Not being religious or to date on religious history at all even I found myself gasping at the "big secret" that is revealed in this movie. It's pretty shocking so I can only just imagine the reaction of a devout Christian watching a film that pretty much spits in the face of all previously held beliefs and uses real historical facts to piece together it's fictional tale. I realize that has to be scary for some people's just a movie. This didn't happen and you'd hope someone's faith would be strong enough not to be shaken by what is essentially a really well done popcorn movie.

The only bone of contention anyone could possibly have is that it takes an issue that is deep and impactful to many and trivializes it into a summer action film. Unlike a novel, the movie doesn't have time to stop and dwell on the historical significance of the story. Considering it's subject matter it's surprising the movie moves at the pace it does as it has a lot of explaining to do at times. Much of that is done quite well through quick historical flashbacks, and while the action scenes feel a bit stagey at times, the movie doesn't feel nearly as long as it's two and a half hour running time suggests it should.

The performances are solid all around, but I did have some problems understanding Audrey Tautou at times because of her heavy accent (though I commend them for actually casting a real French woman in the role). Tom Hanks was a good choice for Langdon as he's basically supposed to be a brilliant bookworm who's just thrown into the biggest conspiracy of all time. No one plays your normal, everyday guy stuck in an extraordinary situation like he does. Paul Bettany absolutely creeped me out as Silas. I have no idea how this character is described in the book, but I can't imagine anyone who's read it being dissapointed how he's portrayed in the film. Bettany has a tough job because he has to be just creepy enough without crossing the line into caricature. He also can't just play him as a monster, but as someone fighting for what he believes, no matter how warped it may seem. Despite all these obstacles, he delivered. Oscar winner Sir Ian McKellen is dignified as usual as Langford's crippled mentor and historical guru.

The special features on this 2-disc special edition package are loaded with some fascinating interviews with author Dan Brown and director Ron Howard. Brown lets us know what he was looking and hoping for in the adaptation of his novel while Howard recounts the awesome responsibilty he faced bringing it to the screen. Howard's a really interesting guy and you can tell he poured his heart and soul into the project to make it work, seeking input from Brown whenever he could. Whether you think this is a failure or not, you have to give Howard credit for making it a priority to capture the author's vision before all else. There's also a guide to codes and clues hidden, at times quite ingeniusly, in the film. Despite the controversy sorrounding it, The Da Vinci Code works, and delivers a final act and closing image that grabs hold and doesn't let go.

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