By Marc S. Sanders
Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay adaptation of the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown suffers from an overabundance of information; like A LOT of information, a TON OF INFORMATION actually. The book is an incredibly fast read with brief chapters and plenty of diagrams and images to study. It surprises me, though, how in depth director Ron Howard’s approach is with the film. Howard must have literally shot every page Brown documented including his edits. Amazingly there is a Blu Ray EXTENDED CUT. It seems Goldsman and Howard at one point couldn’t help themselves. Restraint had to step in for the controversial story’s cinematic debut.
Tom Hanks plays the great modern literary character, Robert Langdon. He is very good in the role of a research expert on historical symbols and cryptology. Hanks even masters Langdon’s self-debilitating weakness of claustrophobia very well, which proves to be a hinderance. It’s maybe an under celebrated part in Hanks’ career because the film is so heavy. Little is talked about this film any longer. (The second sequel, Inferno, flopped at the box office. I’ve yet to see that one.)
Langdon is recruited to go the Louvre in Paris one evening to look over a recently murdered victim left with a pentagram carved in his chest and a gunshot wound in his belly. The victim’s name is Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle). Soon Langdon is teaming up with Sophie (Audrey Tatou), Sauniere’s granddaughter, to uncover one puzzle or clue after another left behind most prominently within the artwork of Leonardo DaVinci, including the “Mona Lisa.” Gradually, a conspiracy is uncovered revealing a strong possibility of how Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ are actually connected. Amidst all of this, Langdon and Sophie become fugitives under the suspicion of murder. Now the cops (headed by Jean Reno) as well as a secret society within the Catholic Church are hot on their trail to stop them from revealing the truth. A dangerous, self torturing Albino monk (Paul Bettany) also comes into play.
That’s a long ass paragraph I just wrote and it hardly scratches the surface of how in depth The DaVinci Code really is. Because it is so nuanced, I had some major problems with the film. For one thing the cinematography from Salvatore Totino is very dark. I know. Most of the film takes place in the middle of the night within the hallowed halls of the Louvre and the streets of Paris. However, I think certain liberties should have been taken here. The details thrown at the audience never stop. Long summaries of dialogue come into play and at times Totino and Howard will highlight a code or a portion of a piece of art or a passage in a book. Because the story is so deliberately murky, I wish at times what I was looking at could have been presented all the more clearer.
Another issue is with Audrey Tatou who is of French descent and whose character is that way too. Her French accent is too thick to clearly understand every word she is saying. A lot of details become lost because her dialect swallows her words. Natural dialects can be a slippery slope in film. You want the characters to be as genuine as possible but none of that means much if you can’t follow along.
The best surprise of the film reveals itself when Ian McKellen appears, portraying Sir Leigh Teabing, a mentor and friend to Langdon. Yes. He offers up a ton of information too. Too much for any one film really. However, McKellan is so giddy in the role. Leigh relishes the fact that Langdon and Sophie appear at his home. He’s elderly and crippled and excited with glee to come across them so he can share his own theory of Mary, Jesus and what is possibly the real interpretation of the Holy Grail. At ninety minutes into the film, McKellan’s introduction is quite a welcome, relief from the heaviness of everything before.
The DaVinci Code clocks in at over two and a half hours. It feels longer actually. There are multiple endings as surprise traitors need to be revealed, more history and theories need to be uncovered and more European locales need to be visited complete with secret passages and hidden staircases. It took a lot of mental effort to remain patient with the film, and I had already read the book!!!
Ron Howard’s film merits the discussion of whether Brown’s bestseller should have ever been filmed. As good as Hanks and McKellan are, I say no. This is not Indiana Jones with bullwhips and truck chases. This is a treasure hunt that sticks to what is on a page and within an exhibit. To mask what is discovered by dictating endless dialogue from the cast becomes incredibly tedious.
Dan Brown’s story is wildly out there in theory and supposition. It’s what makes it fun, really. So, do I recommend The DaVinci Code? You bet I do. I definitely recommend you read the book.