Written by Akiva Goldsman
Directed by Ron Howard
Running Time: 2:28
for disturbing images, violence, some nudity,
thematic material, brief drug references
and sexual content.
The Da Vinci Code was an entertaining, if somewhat slow, religion-themed thriller that while good in its own right, doesn't do justice to the book upon which it is based.
Robert Langdon is a Harvard professor who specializes in symbols. While in Paris, he is summoned by the police to help solve a murder that has taken place in the Louvre. The curator, Jacques Sauniere, has been killed and his body left in a very strange state. What Langdon doesn't realize is that he is the prime suspect. He is aided by Sophie Neveu, cryptologist who also happens to be the Sauniere's granddaughter. Sauniere also happens to have many secrets he has been protecting, namely the location of the infamous Holy Grail. But the bigger question is, why is the church, and specifically a sect known as Opus Dei, willing to kill to protect the secret? Langdon and Neveu must rush to find the grail before all trail of it is lost to history.
There probably aren't many people who haven't heard of The Da Vinci Code, whether they know of the new movie or the hugely successful book. I've read the book twice, so I take a different perspective into the theater than someone who knows little or nothing about the story. If you've read the book, you can tell immediately what changes have been made, and depending on how attached you are to the story, that could influence how you feel about the film. Most of the changes were made to slim down what would end up being a six hour film. Certain aspects of the story are combined (one cryptex instead of two for instance), and other aspects are tossed completely. The book was able to go into complete detail about the history of the Grail and spend a lot of time discussing the historical record. A lot of times people would just sit and talk for 20 or 30 pages and that is very hard to translate on to the big screen. Things need to be kept moving and information has to be parsed out whenever possible. The film clocks in at around two-and-a-half hours, so a lot was kept in, however the biggest problem is that there isn't a lot of action that takes place. In order to keep as much of the book in, the filmmakers extended the movie to a point where, at times, it became a little boring. The book at times also became boring, but you could put it down and pick it up again the next day. You can't really do that with a movie, at least one you pay too much to see in a theater. I'm not against the changes that were made to the plot, but I would have liked to have seen more action thrown in to keep things lively. The book and film were never marketed as being 'dramas' they were considered to be 'thrillers' and a thriller needs to be more exciting and keep me wondering. I realize I've read the book and know how the story goes, but the revelations that take place come with no fanfare and you start to wonder if maybe you missed something important, because people don't look like they care too much.
I'll try to address the movie by itself. The film starts with the murder, and is more graphic than I expected. We meet the important players in the film (save one) fairly quickly. Most of them seem to have a backstory that we see in flashbacks, although the one for Silas, the member of Opus Dei we see most often, isn't told within much context. Langdon and Neveu figure out things very quickly and move in and out of scenes without taking a lot of time to think things over. Once they get to Leigh Teabing's house, the movie begins to pick up as we learn more and more about why the Grail is so important to everyone. But once again there are scenes where people need to talk to get out information and unfortunately, neither Tom Hanks nor Audrey Tautou play their characters in a way to make them compelling. A lot of people wondered about the casting of Hanks as Langdon, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because he is, after all, Tom Hanks. But his take on Langdon is one who always seems to want to take a step back and not go for the gold. He is quiet and reserved and most of the time, not very interested. Tautou is about the same. She is quiet and only once in a while explodes with any intensity. When Teabing, played by the great Ian McKellen, appears on screen, things take off. He actually seems to be enjoying himself and you get taken in by his performance. If only Hanks and Tautou had managed to make us care about their characters, I think the movie would have been a lot better. Story-wise, it was solid and always extremely interesting. Whether or not you choose to believe the story as truth, or accept it as fiction, it is an idea that is compelling.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked The Da Vinci Code, but think it could have been a lot better. If you've read the book, you'll know what the differences are and might miss them. The book was able to go into a lot more detail that made the story more intriguing, but the movie had to cut through a lot to keep the time down. When it did go into detail, the movie slowed down, which presents a serious catch-22 for the filmmakers. How do you make a movie based on a book that featured a lot of talking, and still keep the film lively? Unfortunately, the filmmakers missed the boat a little and made a decent film, but not a great one.
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