Friday, May 26, 2006


RATING: ****
RUNTIME: 149 min.

THE DA VINCI CODE has finally arrived. After a journey that has been one of the most controversial of all time, this mega-hyped thriller based on the record breaking worldwide bestseller by Dan Brown is finally here for the audiences to uncode it. So the big question on everybody lips- Is it worth the wait and the hype? The answer is YES. Of course it is not for the comic-book escapist crowd who are looking for a thrill a minute INDIANA JONES, NATIONAL TREASURE type ride. This is a movie very serious with its plot. Hell I want to ask the director and Sony Pictures as what they were thinking when they were releasing as a summer movie. This is not a dumb movie by any means as most summer movies are. And if you consider the literal quality and filmability of the source material this is an excellent effort. You can say that the movie drags in a few places. You can say that it is not exactly engrossing as the novel. But for that to happen the movie has to be dumbed down, derailed into a thriller with few details and a lot of action. Rather the movie faithfully follows the source material and doesn’t make the journey any easy. It in fact tries to cram together the entire details of the labyrinthine plot of the novel.
If you have been living on Mars or never read books the plot follows Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) who is in Paris for the release of his new book. He is contacted by the Paris police department concerning the murder of a famous curator Jacques Sauniere. It turns out that Robert Langdon is the prime suspect on account of some message written by the deceased. And in his death there are puzzles that will lead to a great secret. He is unexpectedly helped by a clever French cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) who turns out to be the granddaughter of the Mr. Sauniere. As they both sort their way through the dense riddles they come across secrets that would shake the religious faith of Christianity to its very foundation. And they find out that they are in the middle of a war, a war that has going along for centuries, a war in which the stakes are high.
The movie is every bit as good and probably better than the novel. In fact Mr. Howard elevates the source material which is more of a pulp fiction with little care for style or character to a movie that has a lot of style and is more intelligent. In fact as leading film critic Roger Ebert said “Ron Howard is a better director than Dan Brown is a novelist”. The source material’s strength lies in the fact that it touches a subject that is so sensitive and has the ability to excite us. And it is the conspiracy monger in each one of us that secretly want it to be true. I guess had it not been for the subject the novel would have been just a mere paperback and I wouldn’t have been writing about a $125 million movie starring Tom Hanks.
Ron Howard’s movie faithfully follows the source material and elevates it to a level that the treatment of it gains respectability- a trait missing in the book. And therein lies its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. Ron Howard has compromised on the silly thrill-a-minute sequences of the book and has emphasized more on the subject matter. And it has got a lot of details. The movie is almost a lesson in History, a documentary on the controversial subject and is giving you complete information. This might not appease to a lot of movie as there are too many details. But audiences who love their movies with dense plots will find a lot of satisfaction.
The main strength of the source material is the puzzle-solving aspect of it. The hit and trial method, the constant racking of the brains of the principal characters is the main draw for the book because that is where we get involved. But that is the one aspect which is absolutely impossible to be filmed. It has been wisely taken out and that leaves the audience as more of a witness watching two people matching their wits rather than we getting involved.
I really appreciate the Mr. Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A BEAUTIFUL MIND) for their effort to not dumb down or talk down the movie to the audience. It never tries to ease out the effort that is needed to get to the end of this labyrinthine puzzle. Every detail is given a lot of emphasis and thus its runtime which is a bit towards the longer side. At the end of it you rally feel like you have been on an adventure rather than the lame plots and treatment of some other movies like NATIONAL TREASURE.
There is a lot of emphasis on the characters considering the fact that the novel was absolutely devoid of it. In fact you end up feeling and sympathizing with the movie’s most fearful character Silas. Wisely inconsequential characters like Sophie’s brother have been weeded out of the plot. There are dimensions to the characters that never were etched out in the novel. And watching the visual images of Sir Leigh Teabing’s argument about the truth of THE LAST SUPPER is infinitely more satisfying that turning the pages of the paperback and searching about it on the web the next morning.
Mr. Howard, much like Oliver Stone in JFK uses special effects to display the arguments of the principal characters. This is where the beauty of the cinema as a medium comes to the fore and it scores over the novel.
But I would have liked Mr. Goldsman to be a little more innovative in his screenplay. Like the sequence where Robert and Sophie escape from the gunpoint of Remy, some action scenes especially leave a bit to be desired. A little bit of innovation here and there would have made it an absolutely flawless thriller. And they need not explain how Robert and Sophie escape from Sir Leigh Teabing’s plane at London. Frankly a good 10 minutes could have been edited with these needless explanations.
The movie’s weakest part is its background score. It is inert in many scenes and that is surprising because it is done by one of the very best in the business Hans Zimmer. It is only in the later stages does the background score catch up with the movie.
The performances are fantastic considering the cast that has to be one of the finest ensembles of talent in recent years.
Tom Hanks is good as we expect him to be. He never overplays himself. Best part about his performance is that it is more of an educated man’s performance. There is an urge to play such parts in a la Indiana Jones fashion with actors trying to be funny and witty. Nicolas Cage did that in NATIONAL TREASURE and was so damn irritating. But Tom Hanks maintains the intelligence and quite demeanor of such a learnt and clever person. He is one of the greatest actors ever and he can give depth even to a scarecrow.
And yeah, I absolutely loved his hairdo.
This is my second film of Audrey Tautou and I have garnered still more respect for her as an actress. She in fact matches Tom Hanks in her abilities to understand the character. She brings this mixture of intelligence and vulnerability to the character of Sophie. Both the actors understand that it is the plot here that is of essence and never try to overplay ever.
Paul Bettany is fantastic as Silas. He so easily portrays the struggle within him and his misguided love for god. He uses his eyes to great effect to portray his dark past and his desire to be accepted. Such roles could terribly go awry because of their susceptibility to getting clich├ęd. But on account of some nice writing and a fantastic performance you end up feeling for Silas. And that is one heck of an achievement.
The best performance in the movie is by Sir Ian Mckellen. But here is another winner that Akiva Goldsman has pulled off and another improvement over the book. The consistency in Sir Leigh Teabing's character was a major problem in the novel. but some fantastic acting and nice screenwriting make the character very consistent and in a strange way endearing. Sir Mckellen provides some laughs in a movie that is dead serious.
And in fact that is where THE DA VINCI CODE differs from other summer movies. It is not your typical summer action blockbuster with cheap thrills, witty characters, a car chase and a lot of action. It is much more concerned with plot and is very serious with its subject matter.
Ron Howard is one of the best directors we have. He will never give you a JFK but will never give you an ALEXANDER either. He makes very honest, unpretentious movie. His movies are pretty straightforward. He has done a fantastic job here to bring a book to life that was on all counts unfilmable. Books like THE GODFATHER, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and LORD OF THE RINGS are very easy to film because they are low on details and very well written. But THE DA VINCI CODE is similar to THE DAY OF THE JACKAL because there is so much detail to cover. And this is where I would like to congratulate Mr. Howard. He hasn’t dumbed down the movie but in fact maintained every detail like the movie adaptation of Frederick Forsyth classic. His visual treatment of the history is particularly engrossing and elevates it above the book.
But it is his effort to take a pragmatic approach to the subject that is the problem. The movie never offends anyone. It is in fact very scared of offending anyone like say JFK did it to the political system. The book was more of a ham-fisted approach that was heel bent on making the novel being accepted as a work of fact. But it is its ability to raise questions that was its one unique gift to the literary world. Every one debated about the topic. But the question is does the movie do the same. Yes it does but only to a lesser degree. It will have many newcomers go to the web and search for stuff. But it will ask them to take a more pragmatic approach and not take the movie as factual. This movie is a complex movie about religious beliefs and ideas that make up a religion. And seldom has such a movie garnered so much excitement.
It has to be commended for such a fantastic effort. I actually laughed out loud in the middle of the night when I read the climactic revelation of the Holy Grail in the book and the identity of Sophie. But I immensely enjoyed the visual depiction of it. In fact the last scene where Langdon bows before the location is image that is going to stay with you for a longtime. Robert Langdon kneeling before the true place of the resting place of Mary Magdalene's sarchophagus is very touching.
Once the entire buzz about the movie is gone the movie will be remembered as one of the better adaptations of a book and a very good, intelligent summer blockbuster. It is a flawed movie with it share of weaknesses. But when the task is so monumental it deserves to be praised to bring out such a worthy effort.
I guess the code has been decoded successfully.


Anonymous said...

Donno much abt monumental task and presenting faithfully a book in a movie but as viewer and one ardent lover of the book didn't get much satisfaction from the movie....
and feel you gave it more rating then it deserved.

Anonymous said...

when will u correct the incosistency about the teabings'inconsistency .

Anton said...

Your review is way off the mark, buddy. If you have enjoyed this movie even after reading the book, you really have low standards as far as movie viewing goes.

Agreed, Da Vinci Code wasn't the easiest of book to make into a movie but this doesn't qualify as a good attempt either. The movie emphasises on all the wrong places and some important parts of the story line are watered down like the conflict between Sophie and her Uncle over a childhood incident reduced to a blurred flashback. Ron Howard shows no enterprise even with a winner material in hand and goes about the affairs in a mechanical manner.
Adding to the misery is Tom Hank's "what the heck I am doing here" performance.Paul Bettany as the Albino is a miscast, he doesn't exude any terror, fury of the novel character. Except Ian Mckellen's performance, there's nothing out of the ordinary in this movie.