Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou, Ian McKellen
Here’s a puzzle. How do you make a movie of Dan Brown’s bamboozling bestseller – The Da Vinci Code - without bruising the brains or backsides of the average cinemagoer? Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13) has braved the hoo-ha and hoopla and had a go. Faithful to the book, this filleted version of Brown’s 593-page doorstopper is as good an adaptation as you could get. Unsubtle and ponderous, it twists and turns entertainingly, if slowly. It’s a pity the central thesis of the Code is such complete hokum, because the actual code-stuff is handled with whimsical dexterity.
If you still really don’t know what it's all about, symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called upon by the French police to decipher the meaning of a murdered man’s remains found laid out in a peculiar pattern in the Louvre. What has it got to do with Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa? The police chief, Fache (Jean Reno) has his own suspicions. But police cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Amelie’s Audrey Tatou) wants Langdon to help her solve a far greater mystery, which threatens to rock the Church to its foundations. Murderous monk Silas (Paul Bettany), is out to stop them, but who are his masters and what is the secret they will kill to protect? Can it have anything to do with the Holy Grail itself?
No masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code still has some quality strokes. The casting of Tom Hanks and Ian McKellen (as eccentric aristo Sir Leigh Teabing) is the key to the film. Audrey Tatou convinces but gets the wobbliest dialogue and – for all the story’s feminism – has to ask questions while the bloke solves stuff. Paul Bettany, gargles with a guttural accent but is believable as a ghost of a man, murdering and repenting with equal violence. Some clunky lines and plot points do strain our indulgence though and may cause a few titters.
Ron Howard’s real contribution is the inspired visual trick of highlighting on-screen Langdon’s riddle-solving thought processes – rearranging anagrams, pulling apart a pictogram. Less successful is the BBC2 drama-doc flash-back tactic to Emperor Constantine or the burning of witches, as if we can’t be trusted to hear about it without seeing it. Better are the haunting images of public and personal pasts that are overlaid onto Langdon and Neveu’s present.
The film deliberately soft-pedals the book’s attack on the Church and Christianity, upping the “people are divine” argument and saying it’s okay to believe what you want. Gee, thanks for that. But The Da Vinci Code, like the book, picks up where Jesus Christ Superstar and The Last Temptation of Christ left off, recycling old-hat myths about Jesus. Nothing new there. If anything, the film’s actually quite anodyne – trusting more to the comfortable playing of its cast than the critical power of its argument.
Watchable and often engrossing, The Da Vinci Code is fat and fitful, like the book. But it’s got Tom Hanks, Audrey Tatou and some fun visual gimmicks. It makes you think – but it won’t change your life.