Dir: Ron Howard (many films better than this)
Jesus died for this!? I used to operate under the cinematic maxim that Ron Howard has never made a bad film. Even Splash had redeemable qualities. While none of his films are masterpieces, you could always count on an enjoyable story with some solid acting and compelling, if not cliched, cinematography. Like Marcus dropping irrational prejudices, that maxim is no more. Marcus, you have been waiting for me to rail on a film. Well, here it comes.
The plot: Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is a notable Professor of Symbolism (or some other made up discipline) at Harvard University. He is delivering a lecture in Paris; afterwards, he is supposed to meet a curator at the Louvre. But alas, said curator is murdered, but he leaves numerous symbolic codes for Langdon. But the French cop on the scene is hell bent on pinning the crime of Langdon. Ok, let me get this straight: a world famous Harvard professor is being framed for the horrific murder of a guy he never met and the lead French investigator could not careless about the forensic evidence and motive...and remember this happens during the same time Langdon is delivering a lecture and conducting a book signing (Yes, I know Harvard professors are hard workers, and they get a lot accomplished in limited time). What follows is a series of non-sequitor chase scenes, unsubstantiated motives, placid character developments (anytime character develop rests solely on hackneyed flashbacks, you know the screenwriter is cashing it in), and uninspired acting. I hear the film is quite faithful to the book, so I blame Dan Brown, the man responsible for the collective dumbing down of society (at least Oprah assigns her readers quality literature).
I am often reluctant to dismiss populist art prima facia as superficial tripe. But I can only imagine Brown's faithful readers mistake the book's compelling religious conspiracy as insightful erudition. Indeed, the premise has merit. Jesus had a child with Mary Magdaline, but that secret was repressed by the Church to maintain the "faith" and the resultant power structure. I can see the attraction of a historic conspiracy that attempt to thwart any information that could undermine existing scripture and the accepted story of Jesus Christ. The premise is quite plausible; the Catholic Church has done some horrific acts in the name of Jesus (the film explains that the historic oppression of women in Christianity is the product of suppressing the Jesus/Mary marriage). But the film (perhaps the book is more thorough) does little with this premise beyond the intial exposition (and oh my Lord, is there a lot of exposition). Instead, Howard chooses to focus on the most artificial murder-mystery-cum-grand-conspriracy "thriller" in recent film history. Even the editing and cinematic tricks were lazy and derivative (recycled Beautiful Mind filming techniques). Yes, the antagonists have a secret to maintain, but beyond that, no character motivation is ever established. The plot rests on characters getting crossed, then double-crossed, then triple-crossed, which only results in the film collasping under its own indulgence. I have crapped more cohesive plots than this.
Howard often follows the Spielberg School of Filmmaking; have a plot dripping with pathos that we are forced to love the protagonists. But I guess Howard has now settled on a sacchrine-free cinematic diet. I failed to care about anyone, even the decsendent of Jesus Christ! (don't worry, I am not spoiling any plot--either you have read the book or you will have had figured out the entire plot within the first fifteen minutes of the film). I don't know what is the greater waste: the squandering of excellent talent on both sides of the camera or the money and hours spent watching the film (or the book for that matter). In the end, everyone loses.
I even have a problem with the title, in no way does it have anything to do with Da Vinci or a Code. I am not even certain "the" is anyway descriptive, except perhaps, this is "the" film you should not see this summer.
I wanted to like the movie, I really did. Howard, Hanks, Goldsmith, Reno, Molina, Tatou. Great talent. But the weight of expectations may have been too much, but it bothers me that the expectations were set by a stupid story based on an inspired premise (the only parts that Brown borrowed). Although I am not a religious man, I prefer the Greatest Story Ever Told. At least it makes sense.