The Da Vinci Code
Watching Ron Howard’s film, you’d never guess that Dan Brown’s "The Da Vinci Code" is a high-spirited, suspenseful mystery thriller - mostly because those adjectives don’t describe the 2.5 hour experience waiting for audiences at the Cineplex this weekend. In many ways it’s an admirable film, elegantly crafted and decently performed; but it lost in the translation the one quality that made the book one of the hottest sellers of our time: fun. In its place, we are given self-importance and austere solemnity, a film that’s as off-putting as it is engaging.
The plot revolves around the mysteries first revealed when Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called by the Parisian police to help crack the symbolic clues left when a curator at the Louvre is murdered. As it happens, the police have already fingered Langdon as the killer, and in an attempt to prove his innocence, he and cohort Sophie Nevey (Audrey Tautou) uncover layer after layer of cryptic clues and mysteries, many hidden in the artistic works of Leonardo Da Vinci. The chase leads to the religious theories so distasteful to the Christian church that they’d prefer you boycott the film, with roots so assumptive they encompass everything from Christ to the Holy Grail.
Let’s face it: any secrets that will "shake the very foundations of mankind" aren’t liable to be found in the Louvre, nor are the theories of the origins of the Christian faith entirely novel. In the novel, Brown wraps his exposition in the veneer of historical facts with indelible charm - almost daring the reader to stretch the boundaries of believability to the breaking point. That’s part of what makes "The Da Vinci Code" such a bewilderingly fun read. But in the film, Brown’s effective mixture of fanciful theories, historical fact and heart-pounding suspense is missing the latter two ingredients.
The blame goes, regrettably, to Ron Howard. We’ll forgive him based on his prior work. His direction feels lugubrious, ill-fitting; it’s as if he felt that the presence of Tautou required the optical effects and pacing of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. But "Da Vinci" does not adapt well to the methodical pacing and pensive mood of a meditative movie; here, it just feels long and entirely too self-important.
Tautou remains nearly impeccable in her performance; despite the pacing of the film, she’s a treat to watch. Ian McKellen turns in a rousing performance in the role of Sir Leigh Teabing - he steals the show in a surprisingly youthful way. Oddly enough, Hanks appears to not know what to make of Langdon’s speedy intellect; he’s best when portraying a pensive protagonist, and when he weighs in with the character’s significant domain knowledge, he sounds a little like a buffoon. In supporting roles, Alfred Molina and Paul Bettany deliver on pitch, the latter bringing Brown’s self-abusing, self-righteous albino to life reasonably well.
Ironically, however, the rest of the film feels fairly lifeless - and with such successful source material from which to draw, it’s lack of spirit is shameful. It should be a fast-paced, suspenseful good time. Instead, monotonous, colorless and entirely too serious, the film self-flagellates all the fun out of Dan Brown’s story.