If you look at the sheer numbers of it, you might think to yourself, “Why would anyone need to write a review about a movie which is about a book which sold over 40 million copies?” Yea, I’m reviewing the film version of Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code”, but we’ll get to that; the book is all about numbers, right?
So, 40 million copies of the book were sold and I’d say, conservatively, we can extrapolate from that figure and estimate that the book has had a readership of 60-70 million, as those book buyers have families and friends and co-workers and extra marital affairs, etc. Then, count in all the documentaries which advertise, fallaciously, that they are “solving” or “uncovering” the code and all the hype the book received from the media in general. I’d venture to say that four to five times as many people that have read the book at least know its premise. Now we’re up to about 350 million having an understanding of the book from levels rudimentary to expert. That’s one twentieth of the world’s population!
Well, I do want you to read this review and I’m not trying to pull a Kurt Vonnegut “Cat’s Cradle”-type thing and admonish you to stop before you start. Myself, and a lot of other people are aware of “The Da Vinci Code”, but that is no premise on which to completely dismiss the film rendering. Actually, if you want my uncensored, brusque opinion on the whole matter, I preferred the film to the book; not that that is saying too much. The book presents itself much like a call girl in the paper that takes a picture with her hair pulled back in a pony tail and wears a suit jacket and reading glasses — a cheap thrill wearing the mask of intellect. But movies can provide cheap thrills and still work, at least in my eyes.
Ron Howard’s directorial take on this zeitgeist in popular prose is a twist laden, mathematical adventure which captures an extremely exhaustive day or two in the lives of nine or ten characters who are unbelievable interwoven. They all connect through impossible coincidence and whatnot, and in movie form this is OK, because it’s over in two hours and while you may leave perplexed, you will be sufficiently entertained.
Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon, an expert in symbology and numbers, who is suspected in a murder investigation. The victim is a Louvre curator who was set to meet with Langdon to discuss scholarly topics on the night he was killed and, also, who happens to be the grandfather of a government agent named Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who aides Langdon’s escape from overzealous detective Captain Fache, who happens to also be on the payroll of the militant Catholic regime Opus Dei, who had the curator killed to find out the secret of the Holy Grail. Get the picture? Oh, and the grail, it’s not a cup like Indiana Jones and Monty Python and the Inquisition crusaded for. The grail is an abstract symbol which was invented to conceal the veracity of Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s marriage and child.
All of the Catholic conspiracy stuff you probably already are aware of so let’s speak on the movie itself. “The Da Vinci Code” seen through the lens of Ron Howard is a moderately paced thriller with exquisite shots of Paris , the occasional shock of an albino ascetic monk tearing the flesh off of his back with some arcane torture device and a lot of last second escapes and unrealistic circumstances. Comedy takes a severe back seat to historical fact and speculation; direct dramatic interaction with the audience is blocked by an albatross of a plot as convoluted as it is high school English class summer reading material.
Hanks and Tautou produce a very weak electric charge in the way of sexual tension, as is more prevalent in the text, both just getting by, especially Tautou, who doesn’t speak English very well and passes, ironically, because of her cute French accent. Hanks is a bore and not as commanding, understatedly masculine, nerdy, or confidently abstruse as Langdon is supposed to be. The only performances worthy of such a blockbuster are from Ian McKellen (Sir Leigh Teabing) and Paul Bettany (“Firewall”) as the color-phobic monk Silas. Both McKellen and Bettany bring their characters to the screen exactly as I imagined them in the novel, just with more flare and realism.
For anyone that hasn’t read the novel, spare yourself two weeks of reading some insipid code cracking and dogma bashing and just see the movie; you’ll get the point and your eyes won’t have to strain as hard.
Ron Howard (director) / Akiva Goldsman (screenplay), Dan Brown (novel)
CAST: Tom Hanks …. Dr. Robert Langdon
Audrey Tautou …. Agent Sophie Neveu
Ian McKellen …. Sir Leigh Teabing
Jean Reno …. Captain Bezu Fache
Paul Bettany …. Silas
Alfred Molina …. Bishop Manuel Aringarosa
Jurgen Prochnow …. Andre Vernet