In all honesty—religion and theology aside—my drive to see The Da Vinci Code sat purely on my strange fascination of Tom Hanks’ new ‘do.
After reading Dan Brown’s bestseller earlier this year in preparation for Ron Howard’s big screen adaptation, I felt cheated. The book was an utter bore akin to reading a police procedural mixed in with pseudo-theological “facts” thrown in. It was a second rate Michael Crichton novel with so-called history substituting for science. And much like Crichton and his novels, it was a chase story with characters devoid of character. Each chapter got more and more preposterous in its revelations, finishing off with obvious cliffhanger endings and ‘uh-oh’ moments to reel you into the next chapter.
I did, however, managed to enjoy the film despite major flaws and heavy-handed moments. Overall, it worked due in part to Tom Hanks and Ron Howard’s visual treatment of the film. Hanks is a trooper. No matter what you throw his way, he’ll make it work. Robert Langdon has got to be one of the most paper-thin characters ever written but somehow Hanks has managed to pull it off, despite some really awkward lines and revelatory moments, particularly the last revelation. I couldn’t help but laugh.
The execution of plot, clues and flashbacks are rather clever which seem to borrow from the Bee Season, where the little girl, using her kabbalistic magic, visualizes her spelling clues right onto the screen, appearing in thin air. All of that in Da Vinci is cleverly and masterfully done. Hans Zimmer score, though highly unoriginal, which has become expected of this once great composer is serviceable. His score is a mixture of Batman Begins and King Arthur. The score fully soars when Zimmer goes liturgical, particularly his Kyrie for Magdalene piece. The film’s strength is in its style and execution, but in all reality that’s just beautiful gift-wrapping for an empty box.
The core of the film is rather shallow and inert. Too many speculative theories to throw around. Too much exposition. “Who is Opus Dei? What is the Priory of Sion?” And to have Hanks’ Langdon remind us at the end of the film that ‘what matters is what we believe’ is, well, rather obnoxious. After the debates and theological arguments this book and film brought up, don’t you think we kind of figured that out ourselves? Duh.
But I’ll give the filmmakers this; the movie is much better than the book. The real problem of the film, and the book for that matter, is that it takes itself way too seriously. That’s like taking National Treasure seriously. Sure, the dollar bill has clues to a hidden treasure. Give me a break.
Everyone else seems to be wasted in sketches of character, especially Jean Reno playing Bezu Fache, yet another gruff French cop. Didn’t Bezu Fache help Steve Martin’s Inspector Closeau catch the Pink Panther earlier this year? Sir Ian McKellan plays yet another physically tormented yet brilliant old chap. And poor Audrey Tatou from Amelie, who is completely miscast in the role of Sophie. Were Mission: Impossible’s Emmanuelle Béart and Braveheart’s Sophie Marceau too busy or too booked to do a high profile summer blockbuster? Audrey Tatou has completely killed off any aspirations to star in another English-speaking film due to her thick French accent. To make matters worse, her and Hanks had zip chemistry.
As I was walking out of the theatre with my friends, I realized that the true problem with the Da Vinci Code as a phenomenon is that it feeds off society’s laziness. The catch-phrase in the poster and advertisement simply states to seek the truth. But as a society, faithful or not, we’ve blurred the lines of fiction and truth. What matters is what we believe, Langdon reminds us. Perhaps the true reminder is not what we believe, but why.
I believe in a lot of things. I believe in good filmmaking and good storytelling. And yes, a lot of things brought up in Da Vinci Code are worth scrutiny and fascination.
But it’s not as fascinating as Tom Hanks’ hairdo.