Pseudohistory turns into pseudo-cinema
That’s what “The Da Vinci Code” promised me. What it delivered was some self-mutilation, many unintelligible lines (a large portion of the film is in French, without English subtitles in Korean theaters) and lots of melodramatic brow-furrowing on the part of Tom Hanks. Add to that a denouement so long and pointless it sucks all the life out of a plot that was already dead-dull.
Even if you, like me, haven’t read the book, you’ve probably seen enough slow news days wander through CNN to know the plot. (You may note that it doesn’t bode well for a suspense movie to have everyone already know the ending.) Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, they had a daughter, and their descendents live to this day. Since then, two factions of Christians have warred over Mary and her daughter; the Priory of Sion and their soldiers the Knights Templar want to protect Jesus’s children, while Opus Dei, a shadowy sub-group in the Vatican, wants to keep the secret buried.
It’s all completely absurd, and it’s stunning that so many religious groups and news broadcasts have devoted so much attention to the topic. For his part, the author, Dan Brown, certainly didn’t try to rein in the attention, and has kept silent on whether he really believes that much in his book is true.
Unfortunately, the film also tries to keep up the charade, presenting obvious fiction as maybe-fact. This is its biggest failing. The attitude should have been one of a silly suspense-adventure flick, in the vein of “Indiana Jones.” But Ron Howard, the director, and Akiva Goldsman, the screenwriter (who I have never been able to forgive for “Lost in Space”), are not Steven Spielberg, and their film is humorless.
The worst casualty is the film’s pacing. When symbology expert Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) gets called in to solve the mysterious murder of the curator of the Louvre (Jean-Pierre Marielle), the curator’s granddaughter Sophie (Audrey Tautou) lets him know he’s being set up.
Meanwhile, Paul Bettany and Alfred Molina are looking very menacing indeed as a masochistic albino zealot and a manipulative bishop, respectively.
So far, so good ― but then Robert and Sophie escape to the villa of Langdon’s old friend, the crippled Grail expert Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan), and the narrative grinds to a halt like the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople. Teabing and Langdon spend what seem like hours blathering about the Knights Templar, with Tautou looking about as bored as we are.
Despite a nighttime chase to the airport, the film never recovers its momentum. Haven given away all its best historical twists with no effort on the part of the heroes, “Da Vinci Code” seems more like a lecture on pseudohistory than a tale of adventure. By the final half hour, I didn’t care who Jesus’s daughter was or where Mary Magdalene was buried ― I just prayed for them all to shut up, and for Tom Hanks to get the haircut he obviously needs.
The Da Vinci Code
Drama / English
by Ben Applegate