01/07/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
What appears to be a ritual murder in the Louvre leads to the discovery of secrets that could change our concept of two millennia of history. For once, says Mark, we have a thriller that is 90% idea and 10% action rather than the other way around. Ron Howard directs the film adaptation of Dan Brown's international bestseller from a script by Akiva Goldsman.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Okay, I admit it. This film was my first contact with the story that has become a small industry unto itself. I did not read the novel and was only somewhat knowledgeable about the speculations in Michael Baigent, Henry Lincoln, and Richard Leigh's book HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL. This novel was based on ideas or similar ideas to ones in that supposedly non-fiction book. I came to this film fresh.
I cannot comment on how likely are the historical suggestions in this film, but what a pleasure it is for me to have a film based so heavily on interesting historical speculation. Today the majority of film thrillers are action thrillers. This is a film with some action, but the action is not a major part of the film. Much of the screen-time is devoted to explanations.
That can make the film dull, and perhaps some viewers will find these explanations uninteresting, but that was not how I found them, and they seem to have enthralled readers of the book. The action scenes are rather prosaic. It is the wordy parts of the film that make the film that are the attraction. The ideas are really are engaging even if not entirely convincing. There is violence in the film but we only see it really closely in one scene and that is voluntary self-inflicted masochistic violence. The kiddies will know not to do this at home.
Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon, Dan Brown's Harvard professor of symbology and sometime detective. Langdon is asked consult on a murder case. He has to examine the body of a murdered colleague and then finds out that he is the prime suspect in the murder. Soon he is on the run, accompanied by Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou), a French police officer. The motive for the murder does not just have its roots in history; it has its roots all over the history of the last 2000 years with conspiracies and cover-ups in several different eras. To investigate, the two people have to solve what turn out to be a string of puzzles and codes. Each puzzle will leave the two investigators high and dry if the correct answer is not found.
Along the way the two are joined by Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), a scholar of religious history. At their heels is Police Captain Fache (Jean Reno). Also on their trail is Silas (Paul Bettany), an albino assassin who is the cat's-paw of the sinister Bishop Sringarosa (Alfred Molina). This film has a very twisty plot, which makes it more unfortunate that the biggest plot twists of the story are telegraphed and spoiled by scenes early in the film.
THE DA VINCI CODE is shot in a very dark film noir style. Much of the photography is intentionally murky. The film is dotted with characters' visualizations of historic events, shot in a different style reminiscent of visualizations from CSI. These flashbacks (way back) add a nice texture to a film that involves so many incidents of the distant past.
THE DA VINCI CODE is a thriller with some intelligence and some historical detail of moot reliability. But it is nice to have a hero who relies on his brain rather than his fist or a gun. Like INSIDE MAN, the other intelligent thriller this year, it relies primarily on ideas and dialog rather than explosions and chases. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
There have been a number of objections to this film claiming that it defames either the Catholic Church or the related organization Opus Dei. It is hard to support either charge from the screen adaptation itself. In the film neither group is said to sanction the villains or their actions. It does claim that certain aspects of Church doctrine are wrong. But people have made that claim at least since the time of Martin Luther. I cannot see that a film suggesting that in its own fantasy world that doctrine is mistaken will do much harm. Some members of the Church have taken exception to the film, which is their right. But I do not blame the film for that.
Last question to ponder: In the painting, where is the twelfth male disciple?
Mark R Leeper
(c) 2006 Mark R Leeper