© 2006 Ray Wong
For the three people on Earth who haven't heard of either the book or the movie, The Da Vinci Code, chances are they will soon. For the millions who have read the book, the question is: How does the movie compare to the book? For those who haven't read it, the question becomes: Is it a good movie?
When the curator of the Louvre, Jacques Sauniere (Marielle), is murdered, the French police, headed by detective Fache (Reno), enlists American symbologist Robert Langdon (Hanks) to solve the mystery. It looks like, before he dies, Sauniere has put himself in an unnatural position and marked the scene with a riddle. When specialist Sophie Neveu (Tautou) joins the inquisition, Langdon quickly learns that he is the suspect for the murder. In order to clear his name, Langdon must solve the puzzle and find the real killer.
Collecting and solving clues on their way, Langdon and Sophie gradually discover the enormity of the "secrets" behind Sauniere's death. They soon find themselves not only running away from the police and a mysterious albino assassin (Bettany), but also going on a quest to find the "Holy Grail." They seek help from Langdon's old friend, Sir Leigh Teabing (McKellen), an English "Grail" historian. Together, they are going to discover the greatest coverup of mankind.
While Hanks (The Polar Express) is a seasoned actor with a mild-mannered disposition, he is miscast for the part of Robert Langdon. He is too demure, reactive, passive and, surprisingly, wooden. Even without reading the book, one could imagine Hugh Jackman or a younger Harrison Ford in this intellectual but heroic role, not Hanks. Luminous French actress Tautou (A Very Long Engagement) seems somewhat lost in this English-speaking role as Sophie Neveu. Even though there is no romance between Langdon and Sophie, the actors still lack certain chemistry together.
On the other hand, Sir McKellen (X-Men 3) is fine as Teabing. He shows a certain naiveté and child-like, disarming enthusiasm that suits the role perfectly. Bettany (Firewall) is also excellent as the tormented assassin, Silas, whose devotion to the Lord is tragically misguided. His gaunt, pale face and body are creepy but mesmerizing. Reno (The Pink Panther) does what he does best -- a French cop, even though his role is rather minor. Rounding out the cast are Molina (Spider-Man 2) as Bishop Aringarosa -- a bishop with a secret mission, Prochnow (The Celestine Prophecy) as bank manager Vernet, Barteloot (Le Grand Charles) as Teabing's butler Remy, Chicot (Imposture) as suspicious Lt. Collet, and Marielle (The Return of James Battle) as Saundiere. They are all good actors in relatively small roles.
However, we don't go to a movie like the Da Vinci Code to watch Oscar-caliber performances. Goldsman (Cinderella Man) does a good job adapting Dan Brown's highly convoluted and expository novel to the screen. Certain parts of the film still feels confusing, especially if one is not familiar with the novel. Also, the script favors more action and less talk, which is both a merit as well a detriment to the story. The action makes the film more exciting and suspenseful, but it also takes away the intellectual intrigue of the central mystery that Brown did so well explaining in the book -- the main reason why the book is such an international sensation.
As with any thrillers, the plot twists come fast and furious, making it impossible for the audience to stop and think through the logical flaws. For example, why Sauniere would trust Robert Langdon -- a complete stranger -- in the supreme secrecy that he's been protecting? And what of Sophie? The risks Saundiere put her through in helping Langdon suddenly doesn't make sense once the final piece of the puzzle falls into place.
Director Howard (Cinderella Man) is a skilled, popularist filmmaker. The Da Vinci Code reminds us of A Beautiful Mind in its dark, soft hues and intellectual overtone. Howard uses cross-cutting effectively in telling the story from many point of views. While the film still comes across as confusing at some points, Howard does a good job streamlining the plot to make it comprehensible. He also adds character quirks and backgrounds for Langdon (he's claustrophobic) and Sophie (she has a unique gift of calming others) to smooth out the otherwise two-dimensional characters. While the intellectual and historical expositions in the book can be interminable, Howard actually makes a mistake by shortening and rushing through them, by using cheap digital transitional effects. In doing so, the true intrigue of the story (and not the run-of-the-mill treasure-hunt plot) is somehow lost. We want to solve the puzzles ourselves, but Howard doesn't allow us. What excites people about the story is not the wild goose chases or guns, but Robert Langdon's ability to break codes and solve puzzles using his intellect and knowledge, as well as the stories behind the mystery. As is, the film is a few bits short of being a complete code of success.
Stars: Tom Hanks,Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina, Jurgen Prochnow, Jean-Yves Berteloot, Etienne Chicot, Jean-Pierre Marielle
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Akiva Goldsman (based on novel by Dan Brown)
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, brief drug references and sexual content
Running Time: 149 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 6.7 out of 10