Opening 18 May 2006
In a vacuum, The Da Vinci Code would be a pretty “ok” suspense-thriller – not great, but not terrible either. However, the film doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of a much larger phenomenon involving an internationally best-selling book, several lawsuits and even a call for a boycott from the Vatican. Amid all of this hype, there is little doubt that the movie will triumph at the box office, but this will be in no way on its own merit. Even with its star-studded cast and acclaimed director, Ron Howard, the film version is a few brushstrokes short of a masterpiece.
While I could criticize many aspects of the film [such as the bad guys’ convoluted motivation (slightly different from the book), the awkward flashbacks to ancient holy wars and personal memories, the utter lack of chemistry between the leading characters, or the downright stupid dialogue (with the possible exception of Teabing, played colorfully by Ian McKellen)], the biggest disappointment came in the form of the heroine, Sophie Neveu, for which the fault lies most probably with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and not actress Audrey Tautou. In a movie whose plot supposedly centers on the search for and redemption of the “sacred feminine,” one would expect to see a strong female character, if not an outright goddess! Instead, poor Sophie is useless throughout much of the film, sadly offering no more than a pretty face opposite Robert Langdon’s (Tom Hanks) frumpy academic persona. Worse, the attempts at portraying her as Jesus-like (when she gives the drug addict money and later “heals” Langdon’s claustrophobia) are simply laughable. What happened to the code-cracking, smart-as-a-whip DCPJ agent from the book who took us along with her on an emotional, punch-packing journey of discovery?
However, the fundamental story of Dan Brown’s brilliant novel remains in tact, and so all is not lost. In this modern day Grail quest, we visit some of Europe’s most famous and fascinating historical landmarks. Professor Langdon’s character introduces us to the intriguing world of ancient symbols, and we get a crash course in art history and Grail legend from Sir Teabing. The riddles divulge their solutions quite cleverly, and best of all, the plot provides plenty of fodder for religious and historical debate. The film has some points uniquely in its favor as well. For example, Hans Zimmer does a remarkable job building and sustaining the suspense with his original score. Some of the computer-generated graphics illustrating how Langdon’s mind ticks were also well done. However, the film moves extremely quickly, thereby missing much of the substance which makes the book so great. Perhaps the film should have been called The Da Vinci Code Lite? (Alyssa Cirelli)