Considering how impossibly high expectations were for the film version of Dan Brown’s wildly popular novel, director Ron Howard should be commended for pulling off as sturdy a job as he did. The serpentine plot of Brown’s metaphysical mystery could itself thwart a small army of directors and screenwriters. Dr. Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), an American scholar specializing in religious symbolism, is summoned to the Louvre one night, ostensibly to help French police captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) investigate the murder of another researcher. But when Langdon himself falls under suspicion, he enlists the aid of government agent Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) and British researcher Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) to help solve the mystery -- which, with pertinent clues hidden in paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, involves a 2,000-year-old secret of great significance to all humanity. Downplaying the book’s most melodramatic and sensationalistic aspects, Howard still has plenty of gothic plotting to deal with. But the film maintains enough momentum to whisk momentarily befuddled viewers past assorted absurdities and gaps in logic. If you let yourself get caught up in the thrill of it all, without searching for any underlying spiritual gravity,The Da Vinci Code offers smashing entertainment.
A book that should have been a movie in the first place, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code was the best seller of the decade when a film adaptation hit screens in 2006. The premise, whether or not you've read the book, sounds like the recipe for a guaranteed great suspense thriller: large-scale cover-ups, precious artifacts, an albino monk from a Catholic sect who self flagellates, and Tom Hanks donning the strangest haircut of his career. Where could they go wrong? In quite a few places, apparently, but The Da Vinci Code is still an enjoyable movie. When the pace gets going and the intrigue builds up, the film flies on its own momentum...and we'd expect nothing less from Ron Howard. Unfortunately, the screenplay was adapted by Akiva Goldsman who was responsible for such ugly book-to-screen transitions as I, Robot and Practical Magic. Goldsman succumbs to the most common screenwriter's pitfall in adapting a book, by including extraneous information, alternate timelines, and far-abreast side stories with no time to make them into something entertaining or useful to the audience. Unless he was operating from the assumption that every viewer of the film had read the book, the chintzy-looking fuzzy-screen flashbacks don't provide useful backstory but instead just muck up the pace and weaken the film's focus. A more dramatic and sweeping take on the thrill-ride would have tightened up all of these problems: a musical or visual refrain used whenever the heroic cryptologists examine a new riddle, or even a stronger concentration on the cabalist mazes would have lent the movie the excitement and captivation its premise deserved. As it stands, The Da Vinci Code is a good movie whose only tragedy is that it could have been great.
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