Monday, May 22, 2006

The Da Vinci Code - Movie Review

Disclaimers first. I haven't read the book. Neither am I an authority on Catholic theology/history. I view this movie simply as entertainment - a movie(or perhaps the writer) that cleverly conjoins well known (unrelated) facts to forward a conspiracy theory. The celebrated film critic Roger Ebert crystallizes the situation in his review: " DaVinci Code - the book is utterly preposterous, the movie is preposterously entertaining". Even Dan Brown says so: that is why the book is listed under the "fiction" section. So, the question that is most relevant to this review is: viewed as entertainment, how effective the movie is?

Viewed in this vein, most of the times, the movie oscillates between being moderately entertaining to reasonably entertaining, with a couple of 10 minute stretches that are certifiably boring. The story (wink! wink!) is, well..., wait..., uhhh... sorry, I cannot complete this sentence with a straight face. What if Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married? What if they had a child? What if their descendent(s) are still with us, today? What if the Catholic church (or a secret cell in it, actually) wants to keep this under wraps and will go to any extends, including directing a creepy looking priest, who is remarkably well built, and looks very close to what Paul Bettany will look like under silver blond hair, to terminate the last of these possible descendents? What if there are an equally zealous group, who are hell-bent on protecting this possible descendent? What if all of the above is true?

The movie starts with the murder of the a museum curator, who before dying, very conveniently, takes time to leave behind an elaborate coded message on the walls, annals and all possible surfaces of the Louvre, in Paris. His death brings the two principal characters together: Sophie, his granddaughter, and Prof. Robert Langdon, a Harvard symbologist, who happens to be in Paris to deliver a lecture. This sets into motion a cat and mouse (and sometimes a mouse turned cat, chasing former fellow mice) game, between the lead pair and all the evil forces that are inevitably unleashed. During this process the English channel is criss-crossed a few times, and you get a free tour of the landmarks on both sides of the channel. For a film that is filmed entirely in Europe, it somehow manages to be visually bland. If you want to see how visually pulsating a movie filmed in Europe could be, rent the DVD of "Munich", and enthrall yourself.

The first half-hour or so of the movie limps by, in spite of the incredulous things happening around, until Paul Bettany's priest literally dashes into the screen and injects a shot of adrenaline to the movie (and the audience). But, during this time period, there is enough Audery Tautou and Audery Tautou-stares on the screen to keep one (speaking for myself) engaged. She is the most effective of the actors in the movie, projecting the right amount of incredulity and awe. Tom Hanks, playing Langdon, is colossaly wasted, and comes close to being invisible. This is partly his fault, but mostly the credit for this goes to the screenwriter and the director. This is deeply unsettling for a Tom Hanks junkie like myself. Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors of this generation. Whenever I watch his earlier work ( I have seen "You've Got Mail" at least 20 times), I am dumb struck by his effortless talent and spontaneity. But in his recent work ("The Terminal", "Ladykillers"), his performances are not that effective. These roles require enormous skill just to attempt them, which Hanks obviously has. But his recent acting is affected with a touch of self-conciosness that somehow undermines his performances. It is almost like his spectacular star status and the consciousness of his power in Hollywood is catching up with him. I look forward to the day, when he will make me eat my words.

Effective conspiracy theories know how to tread the thin line between "could-be-possible" and "definitely impossible". They throw enough facts and logic at us to make us question certain things without pulling the rug completely. In that aspect, this is a remarkably successful attempt. Though, to escape certain inevitable awkwardness, it answers a lot fewer questions than it poses. In the end, they track down the sole living descendent of the Christ-Magdalene union. At this point my mind kept wandering off to imagine what sort of monumental pressure (procreationaly speaking, that is) this descendent must be under. I already hear that they are going to make another Dan Brown novel "Angels and Demons" with Tom Hanks returning to update his role. So for the 60 million fans who bought "The Da Vinci Code", and the countless ones who freeloaded on them, keep your engines running.

3 comments:

Tafosi said...

I have indeed read the book and found it to be an engrossing tale, as any fiction should be. So I can review the film either like yourself who hasn't seen it or compare it to the images in my mind. In both cases, my answer would be same: What a yawnfest.

Hanks looks like he was woken from a long hibernation and walked around under heavy dose of vallium. Tautou does look great but she like the rest of the stellar cast was going through the motions. Never has such a collection of talent been wasted since the Indian cricket team.

The problem here was that screenplay required some re-writes. This was not a case of one Peter Jackson living a project his whole life. This was someone who had 6-8 weeks to adapt a novel. I can't belive how lifeless the entire movie was.

At least I had read the book. Can't imagine how it would have felt if I had gone expecting a miracle (pardon the pun). One other grudge I have is, for a book that glorifies the 'sacred feminine', all the discoveries which Sophie makes in the book are attributed to the Hank's character while Tautou is made to look extremely stupid for a cryptographer. All her dialogues have been give to Hanks as well. Plus I preferred the ending in the book (very different) as compared to the botched effort over here.

If they want Hanks to reprise the role in 'Angles and Demons', they better get a move on to wake him up soon.

All in all, as a wise man once said, "Another excersise in mediocrity by Ron Howard".

nmagesh said...

Man, that was a blast of a review. Scathing, biting, devastating. I agree with you. This could have been a rousing tale and a nail-biting thriller.But, for minds and souls that have been seasoned by hollywood mediocrity, this comes across as a just-ok attempt.

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