The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, Alfred Molina
Directed by: Ron Howard
I’ve never read the book, nor do I ever plan on doing so. So this won’t be a review on how good an adaptation Ron Howard‘s film is of Dan Brown‘s best-seller. Instead, it’s an uninitiated look at the movie for what it is: a decent, if unspectacular, summer blockbuster that should provide a few thrills for those looking for uncomplicated entertainment.
As I understand it, the book is a more heady tale, and thus I can get that fans may be disappointed by what is essentially a simple movie. I personally wasn’t expecting much from the flick, having already started to grow tired of the film from the omnipresent advertising it has throughout Europe (where I was on vacation). So, with these lowered expectations, it managed to deliver some entertainment for me, in a summer blockbuster, rather forgettable fashion. It may have helped that I had just visited some of the scenery in the movie, and thus got a kick out of it, but I also think the movie itself did a few things right.
Certainly, it did some things wrong. The movie drags itself down too much with exposition, weighing down some of the genuine thrills with long scenes of intellectuals explaining the theories that propel the story. I don’t know if this is how it works in the book or not, but it doesn’t matter. Books are books and movies are movies, and what works in one medium doesn’t necessarily work in another. There had to be a better way to present the theories than simply telling the audience (through our surrogate, Sophie Neveu, played by the beautiful Audrey Tautou).
In fact, if I had to pick the biggest flaw in the movie, it would have to be pacing. Primarily, Howard paces the film as a chase movie, with Tom Hanks‘ Robert Langdon and Neveu attempting to solve the riddle of the Da Vinci code presented to them, while outrunning French police chief Captain Fache (Jean Reno), who is convinced of their guilt in the murder that sets the movie off. The film is at its best when the urgency of the chase is maintained, with Langdon and Neveu discovering things along the way. It gets bogged down when they’re being told things (generally by Ian McKellen‘s Sir Leigh Teabing) instead of discovering them, and grinds to a halt when the chase is over, but the film still has a solid half-hour of business to take care of. What should be the film’s climax feels like an anti-climax, which I’m sure left many viewers feeling cold to the movie.
Ultimately, I don’t think that Ron Howard was ideally suited for this movie. It doesn’t play to his strength of making sentimental movies that make viewers feel good. It’s a thriller that wants to be a think-piece, not the kind of movie he normally makes (although he did much better with A Beautiful Mind).
Another negative in the film was the performance of Hanks. For the most part, his Langdon is uninspired. He’s still the affable Tom Hanks we’ve come to expect, but his performance lacks the necessary urgency to help power the film. I never even got much of a sense that Langdon was that interested in solving the mystery. He just seemed to be a smart guy who went to the wrong book signing. Since I didn’t quite feel that he was interested in the mystery, I kept wondering why he didn’t just try to get to another embassy (he did have the opportunity to go to Switzerland), and be done with it. It’s possible that Hanks’ dedication to the role began and ended with him growing his hair out.
With that said, the rest of the movie is pretty fun. The backdrops of France and England are great. Some of the ideas of the story are an interesting bit of speculative fiction. Ian McKellen is fantastic, giving the movie a real jolt. It’s a decent early-summer blockbuster, to be enjoyed for what it is, then disposed.