Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Paul Bettany
Spoilers Within: No
The other evening, while seeking a National Treasure-style film with a complete disregard for historical veracity, I settled on the mystery-detective adaptation of the inconceivably popular bestseller The Da Vinci Code. Without seeing either of the two aforementioned films, you’d still be perfectly capable in understanding that this Tom Hanks-led thriller is more sincere than that with which Nicolas Cage is involved. This awareness doesn’t make Ron Howard’s adaptation any less entertaining, even though it’s delivered in a more deliberate and humourless style.
Having let Dan Brown’s novels and Howard’s films pass me by on their first release, everything here was fresh to me, and the globe-trotting, puzzle solving, world-altering ramifications were exactly what I wanted, and I got it in spades. Diverting at times and overwrought in others, the plot concerns Hanks’ becoiffed symbologist Robert Langdon as he answers the call to a particularly grisly whodunnit in the Musee du Louvre, only to be embroiled in a quest for the legendary Holy Grail with faithful cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) in tow. It’s a by-the-numbers riddle that managed to keep me guessing purely due to the unforeseen alterations to history, and though it’s serpentine plot isn’t so much a detriment to the film, it certainly makes it easier to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t.
For one, Akiva Goldsman has provided one of the most over-expository screenplays I’ve heard in a long, long time. The amount of the bloated runtime dedicated to scene-after-scene of analysis and explanation is astonishing: explanations of history; of terminology; of geography etc. were explained into the ground. You name it, someone paused to explain it. This drags the film endlessly, so when the twists and turns to the narrative eventually come, it takes longer than it should to interpret the consequences in relation to Langdon and Neveu’s journey. Another problem with the script – and by extension, the casting – was that Tautou’s delivery of English idioms and parlance was riddled with a jerkiness that didn’t coordinate with her intellectually rich character. This isn’t so much her fault as it is the screenplay’s, but it didn’t help to give her the conviction she so needed. Hanks was expectedly fine and definitely did the best with what he was given, but even his confused understanding of the events that unfolded before him was stiff and wayward.
It’s perhaps slightly more entertaining because this nonsensical and obviously fabricated story offended so many subsets of the population: to be insulted by something so plainly made up takes a misunderstanding of constructed storytelling to an almost celestial level, and truthfully, Goldsman’s screenplay seemed to take an evenhanded approach to criticising everyone, so taking personal umbrage to it was nothing but ones’ own fault. Catholics, police, atheists, the French, albinos, and more, were all targeted. It’s absurdist babble from the beginning, filled with feeble action and the completely outrageous characters – from Jean Reno’s combative police captain, Paul Bettany’s flagellating theist, and Ian McKellen’s theatrically duplicitous Holy Grail expert – all prove a welcome distraction from the constant retelling of religious history.
The Da Vinci Code isn’t a film I’m particularly keen to watch again – the majority of the enjoyment was in unravelling the mystery that would be lessened on a rewatch – but it hasn’t put me off watching it’s prequel sequel or the forthcoming cap to the proposed trilogy. It ticked all the right boxes when I needed it to, and despite its multiple glaring flaws, it was a tolerable and engaging Friday night movie.