Reviewer's note: I haven't read the book. So I'm writing this review from that perspective...|
Seldom does a film come along that carries on its shoulders such a heavy burden of public expectation, media hype, and social controversy. The Da Vinci Code is cursed with these three difficult hurdles and although the book seems to have sold an infinite number of hard covers across the world, in the difficult arena of feature film, the movie isn't really something that should cause as much fervor as did Dan Brown's tome. And with Akiva Goldsman holding the quill for the screenplay, it seems all but certain that this movie would need to rely fully on its story and performers for success.
Despite the acclaim he earned for 2001's A Beautiful Mind, it's a minor shame Goldsman was handed the keys to this screenplay since his dialogue represents some of the most staid verbiage in the industry. And given the intense amount of plodding exposition present in this story (scenes where characters just sit around and talk plot and reveal "surprises" with talk rather than action), it seems a blow to the screenplay to put a writer like Goldsman in charge of the dialogue. About a third of this movie is composed of lead actor Tom Hanks uttering something fantastical about Christianity for at least a half a reel.
Far too often characters sit in quiet conversation, talking about things when they should be showing the audience their discoveries. And when the characters do engage in back-and-forth conversation and one of them isn't monopolizing the scene with excessive verbiage, the dialogue is repetitive. More than once Hanks (playing a famous "symbologist" named Robert Langdon) and co-star Audrey Tautou (playing a French government agent named "Sophie") toss the same phrase back and forth at least three times. It's like Goldsman flipped through a thesaurus just to double up on the dialogue so that whatever a character said was really, really, really ingrained into the audience's consciousness.
If one looks past the generally lackluster dialogue, there are also faults to be found regarding the pacing of the film, especially in the opening scenes. The first half-hour seems to trot along much more slowly than is necessary, as if director Ron Howard was setting the stage for a dramatic television series and not a feature film. Generally Ron Howard's films excel regarding performance and mood and The Da Vinci Code is no exception. There are times when Howard is able to bring his actors beyond the redundant dialogue to an interest-inducing performance.
For example, supporting actor Paul Bettany, who plays the evilly confused Albino monk "Silas," gives a hell of a performance, even if his character (and many others in the film) are mired in ill-fitting flashbacks and musings. Flashbacks are a difficult beast to conquer since they too often stop the forward progression of the film in favor of static character development. The key is to allow the plot to march forward while the characters' developing emotions push it forward. Although the flashbacks are creatively portrayed, there are so many of them at times that it seems fully half the film takes place in the past.
Regarding the apparent religious and social fervor the book's premise has caused, while the story presents some radical ideas, it's not the scathing indictment on Christianity that some critics have charged it to be. If anything, the character in the film most critical of the religion is also one of the most maniacal and least sane of the film. This film doesn't have the power to truly change one's mind on the good and evil of the religion. Viewers will emerge from this film (and probably from the book) with the same basic opinions about the religion.
As is the case with most Rob Howard films, the cinematography and set decoration are presented with finesse and though it's difficult to recommend the plot of the film, the locations, sets, and color are healthy in creativity and vividness. Hans Zimmer's score is abused in only a few cases and generally serves the emotion the film well rather than bombarding the audience with musical cues on how they're supposed to feel at any given time.
Despite a seeming public outcry over the chosen hairstyle for Tom Hank's character, the actor does a credible job of pulling empathy from the audience though it's hard not to wince as he's forced to droll through long passages of dialogue that reveal substantial portions of the story and the plot's investigations into Christianity. Hanks is joined by a talented cast with Audrey Tautou easily garnering the audience's affections and Paul Bettany successfully earning the opposite. Ian McKellen, playing a fanatical religious investigator, also tosses out a performance that usually rises above the shoddy dialogue (perhaps he is just supremely lucky with the gorgeous timbre of his voice).
Jean Reno and Alfred Molina are also wonderful additions to the cast (Reno plays a hyper French detective and Molina plays a high-ranking member of the Catholic clergy), and with the caliber of performance in this film, it's so easy to wish the script had been up to par. In considering all aspects of the film, it is only because the story is so dependent on the information conveyed that the difficult plotting becomes so harsh a factor in the movie's downfall. Fans of the book will have their opinions, but even the odd viewer who hasn't been seduced by Dan Brown's tepid narrative (he can create a great story, but his use of the English language is quite elementary) might find this 149 minute movie a bit long on talk and too short on engrossing story.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.