The Da Vinci Code

2006, Movie, PG-13, 149 mins


Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman's reverent adaptation of Dan Brown's best-seller accomplishes the remarkable feat of transforming a book whose big type and little chapters seem more suited to a beach read than a densely researched historical mystery into a film, one that feels in fact longer than the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Denounced by the Vatican as an affront to the faithful by virtue of a plot predicated on the notion that generations of ravening zealots in clerical clothing have conspired to conceal the faith-shattering fact that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had a child, the book's manifest liabilities — ludicrous cliff-hanger plotting, windy exposition, "characters" with no distinguishing characteristics beyond their twee names — are painfully magnified on film. In the first of many contrivances with no real-world counterpart, reluctant celebrity Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, afflicted by a hairpiece more diabolical than any conspiracy), a Harvard professor staying at the Hotel Ritz Paris while promoting his newly published book of religious symbology. He is approached by the French police for help in interpreting the number sequences, signs and cryptic writing found on and around the corpse of respected museum curator Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle), murdered and left ritually mutilated in the Louvre. The "request" is actually a trap laid by relentless inspector Bezu Fache (Jean Reno), who has reason to believe Langdon killed Sauniere, but before Langdon even realizes he's in danger, fetching police cryptographer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), who just happens to be Sauniere's estranged granddaughter, comes to his rescue. Sophie, Robert and Robert's old friend Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen), a fabulously wealthy amateur historian, pursue a fiendishly tricky trail of encrypted clues to the secret that cost Sauniere his life and could, as is said portentously and often, rock the Church of Rome to its foundations. They are in turn pursued by a murderous albino (Paul Bettany) who answers to Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina), of shadowy Catholic sect Opus Dei, whose benevolent name — Latin for "God's work" — belies its dark purpose. The busy plot is further encrusted with historical and personal flashbacks, the reading of doggerel, tours of churches and mini-lectures on the Templar knights, pagan sex rituals, the Council of Nicaea, Sir Isaac Newton, the holy grail and the works of Leonardo, referred to throughout as "Da Vinci" by precisely the sort of people who should know better. Only McKellan seems to understand the profound silliness of the film in which he finds himself, and he camps it up accordingly; the rest of the cast soldiers grimly through this preposterous, 148-minute marathon looking increasingly — and understandably — exhausted. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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