The Da Vinci Code
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Sir Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina, Etienne Chicot
Screenplaywright: Akiva Goldsman
Rating: *** 1/2
An old man runs through a painting gallery with a cowled figure in inexorable pursuit. A few frames later, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) a religious symbologist from Harvard, promotes his book Symbols of the Sacred Feminine.
Thus begins one of the most awaited films of this year.
Robert Langdon is in Paris for a promotional lecture. He is taken to the Louvre where the curator Jacques Saunière, with whom Langdon was supposed to have drinks with before his lecture, is found murdered. Next to Saunière's bizarrely positioned body are his dying words – an incomprehensible cipher.
Enter cryptographer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) who informs Langdon that he is the primary suspect for the murder. Together, they escape Captain Bezu Fache's (Reno) interrogation and flee Paris, puzzling over the baffling clues left by Saunière.
With the help of Holy Grail historian Sir Leigh Teabing (McKellan), they fly to England to piece together the puzzle which increasingly points at an earth-shaking secret that can change the face of one of the world's religions.
Director Ron Howard has done justice to the trivia-laden plot of the novel.
Where the book has dimensionless characters, bland dialogues and numerous chunks that read like a textbook for Etymology 101 – all which come together as 'bad writing' – the film improves it vastly.
The characters are not only true to the book but a vast improvement on them. Tom Hanks comes across well as the skeptical symbologist and is far more believable and impressive than the cardboard-cutout character of the novel.
Some of the most real scenes – reminiscent of many an arts course classroom debate – are the arguments between Langdon and Sir Leigh as they bandy back and forth scholarly and conspiracy theories.
Tautou's Sophie is a real Agent Neveu, not Agent Know-It-All. Sir Ian McKellan is a real hoot and is totally guilty – of stealing the show. Jean Reno as the poker-faced Fache is a good to watch. Paul Bettany's Silas is eerie and the scenes of his corporal mortification are chilling. Those who want to see Silas's red eyes may be disappointed – there are none.
A pointless car-chase sequence aside (is there an American thriller without one?), the film actually does not deserve to be placed in the thriller genre. Relying more on discussion, debate and rhetoric, its pace is on the slower side making it work better as a mystery.
The cinematography is fairly good without being extra-ordinary and the dark locales make for excellent ambience. Scenes from history liberally intersperse the film's narrative and lend much credence and inspire audience interest in the rhetoric being bandied about.
There are many moments of ironic humour, and let's face it, there is not a single way to say, 'you are the last living descendant of Jesus Christ', without causing laughter, even though Tom Hanks' look and delivery is as good as ever.
Unburdened with the oodles of trivia that spread through the novel and divorced from Dan Brown's hack prose, the film works fairly well and yes, this is one of the rare instances when the film is actually better than the book. An Academy Award to Akiva Goldsman for culling a decent screenplay from the novel!
As for the controversy, there are a couple of sentences here and there that could offend the more sensitive cliques of people. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled for the poorly spelt and entirely superfluous disclaimers (Really, I&B Ministry, if you must take a step like that, at least adhere to correct English, please?) precede and end the film.
A word of caution to those who want to watch this film just for the heck of it, or those who do not know what it is about: pay attention else you will not be able to follow the plot.