Review: The Da Vinci Code

When a curator at the Louvre is murdered trying to protect dark secrets from an albino assassin (Paul Bettany), the French police (led by Jean Reno) locate the man's last known contact, symbologist professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), to bring him in for questioning. Overwhelmed by the breadth of the codes and symbols left behind by the dead man, Langdon is given clarity by Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), the curator's granddaughter, who fears the true motivations of the police. Escaping potential custody, Langdon and Neveu begin a dangerous search to unearth the secret the curator was protecting, finding treacherous religious figures (Alfred Molina), untrustworthy associates, and their own skepticism halting their progress at every turn.

In the last few weeks, "for the 12 of you who haven't read the book" was the common joke trailing any piece of "Da Vinci Code" plot description or trivia. Well, I'm one of those 12. I'm the guy who didn't go anywhere near Dan Brown's novel as it stormed the best seller charts and turned a seemingly charming beach read into a national event.

Director Ron Howard is the filmmaker with the chutzpah to try and bring the intricate Langdon saga to the big screen, and the end result is an entertaining if overstuffed motion picture. Howard directs the tale of intrigue and dynamic history lessons with a decided lack of panache. Perhaps the filmmaker was wary of spinning the film in ways that would upset the hardcore fans of the book, but at its worst, "The Da Vinci Code" (IMDb listing) can be a dreary, unresponsive experience. It's never boring, but the picture is readily aware of not tipping the canoe and drowning the core appeal of the story with fancy directorial flourishes.

Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman ("A Beautiful Mind," but also "Batman & Robin") keeps a very close eye on Brown's plot, and there's a lot to consider when shaving this exhaustive, participatory novel down to a cushy 150-minute moviegoing experience. With Opus Dei, Knights of Templar, Priorys of Sion, and Leonardo himself, Goldsman deserves some credit for maintaining a strict forward momentum to the story, even if he has to achieve it through hammy and often obvious dialog. Fans of the book will undoubtedly have a richer understanding of the complex nature of Langdon's quest, but casual viewers should be able to grab hold of the details as well. "Da Vinci" may be clumsy at times, but it gets the job done satisfactorily.

As much as Sony would like people to believe this picture is a thrill-a-minute, hair-raising, blood-pumping thriller, the truth is "Da Vinci" is almost all exposition and problem solving. Howard attempts to fluff up the proceedings by sprinkling in a car chase and some standoffs, but those moments feel out of place in a story that embraces the art of calm deduction to save the day. I can't blame Howard for trying to spice up the film with dollops of action, but the gold of "Da Vinci" is watching the characters enthusiastically spark to clues and ideas, not globetrot and dodge bullets. Any potential viewers must understand that "Da Vinci" is two-and-a-half hours of characters undemonstratively explaining historical events (with some Howard recreations to help paint the picture) and spitballing solutions to codes; it is not a high-flying Parisian "Indiana Jones."

Even with a controversial haircut, Tom Hanks does a convincing job in the lead role of Langdon. It's surprisingly understated work, with Hanks electing to bear silent witness to the events surrounding the title dilemma and not charging full steam ahead as a blowhard hero. Armed with brains and claustrophobia issues, Langdon uses his intellect and remarkable education to unravel mysteries, and Hanks plays the confidence of historical expertise impressively and commandingly.

Equally as fun is Ian McKellen, who pops up in the film's second half as Langdon's English colleague, armed with knowledge on the clues that explore the more weighty (and likely inflammatory) theological discussions of the film. McKellen lightens up the picture with his enthusiastic delivery, and he's one of the few in the film who can transcend Goldsman's melodrama and make the role twinkle.

While trying to juggle at least three endings, Howard eventually picks an energetically respectful tone, assisted by Hans Zimmer's lifting score, giving the film a gorgeously graceful exit. "Da Vinci Code" might not be the type of knock down, drag out summer entertainment audiences are used to, but it has subtle appeal for the especially patient. It's a long trip around religious theories and elaborate puzzles, but it's a trip worth taking for some slow-burn decoding delights.

Filmfodder Grade: B

Well, I just came back from the theatre to see the screen adaptation of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code.

As this blog is from the perspective from a person who hasn't read the book, this reply is from a person who really enjoyed the book and the carefully executed subtleties that garnished Brown's novel. For the most part the movie kept true to the book at a satisfactory level.

From the standpoint of a movie watcher, it was decent. I didn't really see any shining moments but I didn't completely dislike the film.

The acting was as well as it could be with such enebriated character development. So many details in the book that were vital to the effectiveness of the central figures were left out of the screen adaptation. It was hard to believe that Langdon would stick his neck out for Neveu. It was hardly appearant that Teabing and Langdon were mere acquaintances (the movie seems to imply that the two were close friends rather than colleagues essentially only tied together through differing aspect of the Holy Grail legend). The entire Fache and Collet dynamic was lost. The love-hate relationship between Teabing and Remy Legaludec is so scarcely touched upon. The once shared intimacy and dejection of Neveu and Sauniere is tried but lost. Even the relationship between Opus Dei and the Vatican is nearly untouched, save maybe one line in the movie. Opus Dei comes off more as a representative of the Vatican rather than a religious sect seeking to regain the approval of the Vatican.

There were a lot of holes in the plot that left moviegoers asking "why?" The movie's biggest problem was fitting all vital aspects of The DaVinci Code into two and a half hours. The movie seems so haphazardly pushed together to get people through a whirlwind of events and information- it kind of gives light to the common conception of american cinema over explaining everything. However, there really was no other choice considering the time constraints- no one really wants to sit through a movie theater to watch a movie that's as long as Titanic (again). Implying key facts that anyone can figure out takes much too long. It's easier to blazon everything through the use of over simplified dialogue, and the collegiate highlighting that can be found throughout the film. At points I found myself craving cheesecake.

The most infuriating aspect of the film had to be the alternate ending. Enough said about that- those who read the book I'm sure can relate. But, the whole "grail on water, water to wine" vignette was really humorous!

SO the movie was decent. Nothing more nothign less. Personally, I would rather have spent 3-4 hours sitting down in the movie theater for the sake of a worthy adaptation. Nice try Ron Howard- you've done better. There's always the director's cut?

Anyway, I'm done ranting. I'll get off the soap box. Cheers :)

-- Posted by: Phil at May 20, 2006 5:15 AM

Phil -- Awesome points. I, too, read the book (I have yet to see the movie), but it sounds like we come from a similar perspective regarding literary adaptations. While it would be wonderful to see an adaptation that adeptly incorporated all the key elements of a novel, the running time issue will always lead to moments of clunky exposition and wacky dialogue. It's just the nature of the beast, I suppose.

-- Mac

-- Posted by: mac at May 20, 2006 11:43 AM