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The Holy Grail of summer blockbusters June 9, 2006

Posted by themoviecenter in Uncategorized.
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May 28, 2006

Famed symbologist Professor Robert Langdon is called to the Louvre museum one night where a curator has been murdered, leaving behind a mysterious trail of symbols and clues. With his own survival at stake, Langdon, aided by the police cryptologist Sophie Neveu, unveils a series of stunning secrets hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, all leading to a covert society dedicated to guarding an ancient secret that has remained hidden for 2000 years. The pair set off on a thrilling quest through Paris, London and Scotland, collecting clues as they desperately attempt to crack the code and reveal secrets that will shake the very foundations of mankind.
RON Howard’s splendid “The Da Vinci Code” is the Holy Grail of summer blockbusters: a crackling, fast-moving thriller that’s every bit as brainy and irresistible as Dan Brown’s controversial bestseller. After being kept under close wraps by Sony, the hotly anticipated film was finally screened for critics yesterday before its premiere tonight at the Cannes Film Festival and its worldwide opening on Friday.

It’s the best thing that either Howard and Tom Hanks – perfectly cast as Brown’s hero, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon – have done since their last collaboration, “Apollo 13,” a decade ago.

While most summer movies ask to check your brains at the popcorn counter, “The Da Vinci Code,” which opens with a bizarre murder in the Louvre, requires you to follow an increasingly elaborate series of puzzles and double meanings.

They all lead to a centuries-old conspiracy that one character labels “the biggest cover-up in human history.”

Even those who haven’t read the book know that conspiracy involves Opus Dei, a real-life prelature of the Roman Catholic Church, which has condemned the novel as libelous and blasphemous.

While the movie doesn’t seriously deviate from Brown’s premise, sometimes that premise is held at arm’s length: “We’ve been dragged into a world of people who think this stuff is real,” as Langdon puts it.

While we’re not going to reveal major spoilers, the few people who haven’t read the book might want to stop reading now if they want to derive the fullest enjoyment from seeing “The Da Vinci Code.”

After being fatally wounded by a flagellation-loving albino monk named Silas (Paul Bettany), the man in the Louvre has stripped himself naked and elaborately arranged himself as a replica of a famous sketch by Da Vinci.

The victim, the chief curator, failed to keep a date with Langdon, so our hero is summoned to the museum by a French police captain (Jean Reno) who suspects him of the crime. But Langdon is whisked away in a clever chase sequence by cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tatou), the dead man’s granddaugher.

She works with Langdon to decipher other clues left by the old man, including the phrase “So Dark the Con of Man” and a code device in a bank vault.

Pursued by the police and Silas, the fugitives enlist the help of the enigmatic Sir Leigh Teabling (the splendid Ian McKellen), a former mentor of Langdon’s.

Teabling relates a fantastic plot (rendered in lavish flashbacks and backed up by clues in The Last Suppper) to cover up the explosive historic truth about Jesus Christ – and Mary Magdalene.

The exciting pursuit of nothing less than the Holy Grail – whatever that may be – takes Langdon and Sophie across France, England and Scotland.

Howard keeps the narrative taut, and Akiva Goldsman’s screenplay is a model adaptation that hews closely to the essentials of Brown’s already cinematic novel without being slavish.

And this lavish production almost entirely avoids the schmaltz that Howard and Goldsman ladled over their previous collaborations, “A Beautiful Mind” and “Cinderella Man.”

At the movie’s heart is Hanks, who is sympathetic, funny and immensely watchable as the rumpled Langdon.

He’s well matched by Tatou, who in a difficult role shows the most screen presence since her breakthrough performance in “Amelie.”

“The only thing that matters is what you believe,” Langdon tells Sophie at one point.

It’s also the creed of “The Da Vinci Code,” which is far more interested in being a rare summer movie that you won’t forget an hour after leaving the theater than questioning the basis of anybody’s religious faith.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

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