' Cinema Romantico: The Da Vinci Code

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

I never realized that Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou were such incredible listeners but, my goodness, they are. If one isn't listening to the other present some amazingly long winded passage on the Knights Templar then they're both listening to Ian McKellen spout for eons on Mary Magdalen and the "greatest cover-up in human history." There is soooo much talking in this movie. It just goes on and on and on. It's agonizing. I mean, the screenplay must have been 925 pages long!

Please don't misunderstand. I love dialogue. I worship it. I take immense (immense!) pride in the dialogue I create during my own screenwriting travails. It's one of the world's finest art-forms (right up there with 16th century cartography) as far as I'm concerned, and an art I and many others have still not mastered. But dialogue must be about something. It can't exist solely to move everyone and everything from Plot Point A to Plot Point B. Then it's just a race to see what theater patron falls asleep first.

The script even contains the ancient device of planting a question and/or comment early on (in this case a joke that was once made at Tom Hanks' expense), not answering it and then bringing it back later in the movie. This can in certain instances be quite effective but here it's brought back at the wrong time and feels terribly awkward.

Granted, "The Da Vinci Code" novel spent - what? - 1,314 weeks as the New York Times Bestseller. I have yet to read it but perhaps Dan Brown's novel was never meant to be adapted for the big screen and that's pretty much what I'm forced to assume after viewing the film. There is nary a moment of character development. Oh, we get some mish-mash about Tom Hanks being trapped in a well as a kid and that makes him frightened of small spaces but this felt like Brown flipping through the Big Book of Character Tics and choosing this one. Tatou's Sophie Neveu gets even more of the shaft in that regard. Well, at least until the end when she's revealed to be.........but then I don't want to give anything away for the "12 people who haven't read the book".

As we begin symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) is summoned from his lecture/book signing by a French police inspector (Jean Reno) to assist with a murder in the Louvre. It seems Langdon is the chief suspect. But Tatou's Sophie - a police cryptologist - arrives to warn Langon that he is in danger and reveal the murdered man to be her grandfather who wanted her to meet Langdon. Helpfully, the murdered grandfather has left an assortment of clues that set Langdon and Sophie forth on their quest. A quest that leads them to Langdon's old friend (Ian McKellen) who - also rather quite helpfully - happens to know every last thing about the conspiracy which Langdon and Sophie are tracking.

We also follow the more brutal tale of monk/assassin Silas (played strongly by Paul Bettany) who's into self-flaggelation for atonement of his sins. I'm not at all familiar with the Opus Dei, apparently a rather devout sect of the Catholic Church that follows doctrine rigidly but judging by Silas it does not appear to make for a romping life. Silas is in league with the so-called Teacher (a character who allows for the mandatory "twist") who are out to protect the conspiracy of the Holy Grail from everyone and anyone.

They brave an assortment of chases and narrow escapes, all of which seem mechanical and uninvolving. I wonder if the book barely mentions these moments while director Ron Howard realized he needed to pump up the action quotient seeing as how this is a summer movie. Whatever the case, they seem oddly boring though I must admit they're a welcome interlude from all the speechifying.

The Catholic Church is all up in arms and every day there's a new story detailing the controversy created by this book but I think everyone's missing the point. Dan Brown wanted to make millions off an "airport rack book" but knew a typical plot wouldn't do the trick. Brilliantly (I must admit), he hit on the whole Holy Grail conspiracy and used that as his jumping-off point. It worked since, as we mentioned earlier, it's been the New York Times Best-Seller for 1,314 weeks. But really it's just a conventional thriller gussied up with a religious twist and in the guise of something deeper. Hey, he got me too. I paid $9.25 to see it.

There comes a moment when the police are bearing down on our main characters and it seems all hope is lost. How will they get away?! Ian McKellen smiles and declares, "Well, actually I have a plane." Maybe it was just me but this moment reminded me of the scene in Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks" when Jim Brown says to Tom Jones (playing himself), "Can you fly a plane?" And Tom Jones replies non-chalantly, "Sure. Ya' got one?" The only problem is the scene from "Mars Attacks" was more convincing.

(Footnote: "The Da Vinci Code" very nearly becomes only the 2nd movie after "Before Sunset" to be set in Paris and not show the Eiffel Tower. But, tragically, only moments before it ends, Ron Howard cuts away to stock footage of........well, you know. So close, yet so far.)

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