Review: The DaVinci Code B

A Film Review By Stefan Vlahov

So Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman must be expert code breakers by now right? First there was the heartfelt story of mathematical genius John Nash – A Beautiful Mind – which involved a lot of letters and numbers that sent secret messages when you look at them. In the film the way this unlikely quality is rendered is by highlighting the letters that represent the code through CGI obviously, and highlight another until a word is spelled out. Goldsman and Howard do the same in The DaVinci Code and this is really disappointing, because I doubt that Nash’s and Langdon’s experiences were similar in any way. I think the similarity between the two was caused by lack of creativity and what was fresh the 2001 Academy Award Winner of Best Picture, now seems like a cop-out when Howard ran out of ideas.

I know it seems like I’m picking on what many people might not even consider a problem, but having recently seen A Beautiful Mind again, it struck me as bad to have such an annoying stylistic similarity between the two films. Yet, that is to be expected since this is Ron Howard, and the last time he showed anything beyond his generic filmmaking style was in 2000’s adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and even then I think it was because he was forced to by Dr. Seuss’s imaginative material. Here, he can cruise like he always does these days and rely on his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Salvatore Totino to create a film that contains no shots or angles worth mentioning, and not a sign of stylistic originality.

That means that all The DaVinci Code has to rely on to capture the audience’s attention is Dan Brown’s preposterous and controversial ideas, as adapted by Akiva Goldsman. While I haven’t read Dan Brown’s book, Goldsman’s screenplay is so good and so consistent, it has no problem with enchanting its audience and keeping them on their toes throughout the long 149 minute running time. Granted, there are some moments that didn’t sell as well as they should have like one very important plot twist toward the end, but that is something forgivable. Plus, I blamed it on the book, which I haven’t read, but adapting a book is a hard thing and when you have a twist in the book, that is not as out of the blue, as this one should have been, it’s even harder to sell it on film, so I think they did a commendable job of adapting it.

The plot itself is relatively simple. It tells the story of Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) who is called to the murder scene of an old curator of the Louvre in Paris, France. He has been murdered inside the museum and has left behind a code that Langdon is forced to decipher. When he deciphers the code, Langdon finds out that there are clues left all over the works of Lenonardo DaVinci, including the Mona Lisa. Langdon is helped out along the way by an agent and a cryptologist by the name of Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou) and an old Englishman Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian McKellen) who seems to know everything about everything. They are being chased by police officer Fache (Jean Reno) and murdering monk Silas (Paul Bettany) who are told by high-ranking Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina) to stop the three protagonists from finding out DaVinci’s secret. Throw in things like the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei and you have yourself a lot of plot.

Because of that this is a very talky film, and the fact that it keeps people’s attention as well as it does, goes against the common belief that the modern blockbuster has to rely on high-speed car chases and explosions. That is actually why I like Howard’s films so much. They are frequently talky, yes, but the fact that they never bore and always explain themselves thoroughly enough, so they appeal to everyone, not just theologists or mathematicians, is a rare thing. That of course is also due to Goldsman talent of scripting dialogue that is not complicated, but doesn’t sound overly simplistic either. At times, like the lengthy speech Ian McKellen is given towards the middle of the film, people might get a little weary of all the talk, but I think that speech is a bad example, because it reveals the main points of the film and McKellen’s delivery is incomparable.

Speaking of delivery – Audrey Tatou can’t deliver her lines very well. The worst part is that her accent is so strong and it seems so difficult for her to say the lines she does, that I never got used to it. I can’t believe Tom Hanks didn’t guffaw every time he heard her speak. Hanks does a good job, but this is nothing special and his character has nowhere near the life that he needs. Why didn’t Hanks take a chance with it and make him crazy and out-of-place or at least sarcastic in the least bit. Speaking of sarcastic McKellen’s performance is one for the ages. His mocking, radical, and sardonic performance is easily the best part of the film and he is instantly likeable. The big disappointment for me here was Paul Bettany as the albino killer. He is no fun at all and Bettany is capable of delivering much livelier performances – just watch A Knight’s Tale. Oh, and he is naked again, which just makes things worse, because it reminds me of fuckin Michael Pitt who is naked in like, all his movies.

As far as the controversy surrounding this project, I’ll only comment on the movie since I haven’t read the book, and I must say that it is not as controversial as it was made out to be, not to me anyways. First off, I’m a Christian Orthodox and in our church priests can get married and frequently do, so the Catholic belief that women should not be allowed anywhere near the church’s dealings, is not one that I share. Also the film offers a compromise, or a challenge near the end of the film. Near the end when the cover-up is uncovered, Hanks’ character says something along the lines of – Why can’t Jesus not have been able to turn water into wine, even if he was married? Why is Jesus’s image weakened by the fact that he might have been married. The truth is that the film is trying to tell people that the Catholic belief of women’s involvement in church is out-dated. Women are now equal, and probably when the Bible was written, that wasn’t the case, so why stick to the anti-women belief?

Granted, Jesus might not have been married, and in fact, it’s more likely that he wasn’t. That is the reason this film should be regarded as fiction, or at most as a theory. Yes, it might be a theory base on secret messages in DaVinci’s paintings that don’t actually exist, and events that never actually happened, but still it’s worth considering. The thing about this film is that it never tries to make people not believe in Jesus or God. In fact, it endorses it. What the film is against is the likely untrue thesi of organized religion. Organized religion, especially in the case of the Catholic church, only existed for power and money, something that Jesus was definitely against. If you believe in God, believe in Him for yourself, not because anyone tells you to believe in him. And most importantly believe in Him in your own way.

This film is good. Like most of Howard’s films, it is generic in feel and style, but good in story -telling and tackling major themes. While, not as emotional as his previous effort Cinderella Man, the film is just as involving. Too bad the acting doesn’t even compare though, except for McKellen and maybe Hanks. Overall, this is a film that is worth the money, partly because it’s not afraid to say what it believes outright.

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