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The Da Vinci Code (2006) June 28, 2009

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2009

The author of this review used to live in a country with single, official and unquestionable history. Then such history came to an end in tumultuous and bloody circumstances only to be replaced with another single, official and unquestionable history. That process,  in which villains became heroes, evil became good and triumphs became tragedies, showed that history, despite being based on unchangeable and objective facts, could be much more fluid than most people tend to believe. It also provided explanation for the recent popularity of secret histories that tend to neatly reconcile ancient complexities with modern sentiments and need for simplicity. Of those secret histories, probably the most successful is one given by Dan Brown in his best-selling novel THE DA VINCI CODE.  Its immense literary success, spiced by religious controversies, made its 2006 film adaptation, directed by Ron Howard, inevitable.

The protagonist of film is Harry Langdon (played by Tom Hanks), American symbologist who is invited by French police to solve the bizarre murder of a renowned curator in Louvre. The murdered man has left messages who might point towards murderer’s identity and investigation is joined by Sophie Neveau (played by Audrey Tatou), French police cryptologist and victim’s granddaughter. Langdon and Neveau slowly reveal clues that point to centuries-old conspiracy to supress “inconvenient” truths about early Christian Church and Jesus Christ. The pair is forced to investigate while fleeing both authorities and mysterious albino assassin Silas (played by Paul Bettany), connected with Opus Dei, semi-secret organisation within Catholic Church.

Many viewers would have their general impressions of this film based on whether they have read novel prior to watching film or not. For most of those who did, Akiva Goldsman, otherwise not particularly inspired screenwriter, does solid job with surprisingly faithful adaptation. This is probably due to Brown’s source material not being something exceptional. The novel is nothing more than rehash of secret histories like THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL, neatly packed with some New Age ideas and rather generic conspiracy thriller plot. Goldsman kept most of novel’s flaws, but he, thankfully, didn’t succumb to the usual Hollywood standards of sacrificing exposition in order to provide audience with more brainless action. The exposition is actually the best and most valuable part of the film, providing viewers with more food for thought than they were accustomed to expect from Hollywood blockbuster.

The exposition also swallowed time for characters and their developments and the cast, which was supposed to be “stellar”, was wasted. Tom Hanks’ character could have been played by much less talented actor, and Hanks hadn’t got any chemistry with tragically miscast Audrey Tatou. On the other hand, Jean Reno, Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina were solid in the roles of villains and pseudo-villains, while Ian McKellen provided good comic relief.

The most important factor of film’s success is, however, direction of Ron Howard. He succeeded in making the otherwise dull and un-cinematic exposition look entertaining and illuminating for the audience. Ancient past and characters, as well as “revolutionary” ideas neatly come alive through short but spectacular reconstructions while being talked about by present-day characters. Howard is also aided by very inspired musical score by Hans Zimmer. Howard’s skill, however, can’t prevent THE DA VINCI CODE from seeming a little bit overlong, especially during the finale.

Despite such flaws, controversies and critics being unusually hostile towards it, THE DA VINCI CODE proved to be a big hit and thus served its primary commercial purpose. However, it also served another purpose – it engaged the intellect among some of the audience, even by providing material for some serious debunking. Even the most important purpose – sowing the seeds of healthy doubt towards official truths, whether those about past of present, was also achieved.

RATING: 6/10


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