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"The Da Vinci Code"

Directed by Ron Howard.
Written by Akiva Goldsman.  Based on the novel by Dan Brown.
Starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan and Paul Bettany.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  5/25/06


I finished the novel in time to view the new film "The Da Vinci Code" having read the source material...and, similar to my feelings of the book, the film is a slight disappointment.

This is because I made the mistake of reading the adventures of hero Robert Langdon in order...and, as such, once you have read Angels & Demons you realize that The Da Vinci Code almost seems to rip off the format of that first and strangely less-famous novel.  The good thing is that it's not a bad formula to rip off, so author Dan Brown's second Langdon adventure features the same structure:  a plot that runs its course in about 12 real-time hours, a hero that is basically a less physical version of Indiana Jones, a heroine that Langdon meets as his adventure begins who is involved because she has suffered the loss of a close family member, a single antagonist working on behalf of a larger entity that should easily remove Langdon from the equation about a half-dozen times but fails.  The big difference, besides a location change (Angels & Demons takes place in Rome, mostly; in The Da Vinci Code, it's Paris & London):  the storyline for A&D is a better mix of characters, story, treasure-hunting symbology and action, and therefore would make for an interesting movie...The Da Vinci Code is brilliant in its plot pacing but is mostly guys sitting and thinking for extended stretches, with an occasional chase thrown just doesn't make for good movie blockbuster story material!

So, in the movie version--which runs way too long at 150 minutes--we get famed Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) as he falls down the rabbit hole, spun in circles as he goes from teaching a seminar in Paris one evening to finding out that a symbology colleague named Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle) has been shot at the Louvre to finding out that Langdon himself is the chief suspect in the case run by French police led by "The Bull" (Jean Reno) to finding out that the cops are setting him up.  With the help of a French cryptologist named Sophie (Audrey Tautou, from "Amelie") who happens to be Sauniere's granddaughter, Langdon and his new accomplice have to outrun the cops and find out who killed Grandpa, who used the last 15 minutes of his life (trust me, you either buy in at this point or you don't, in both the book and film versions) to write clues on two pieces of artwork in invisible ink, leave a key behind another piece of art, write four lines of a clue near a spot where he was going to die in invisible ink, spread blood in a pattern on his chest AND leave his body spread eagle with his dying breath all while bleeding out of his gut.

Yeah, that's the setup.

If you can get past that, the book is entertaining, and its ideas on the real origin of Christ, religious sects, brain-teasing riddles and numbers studies like the Fibonacci Sequence (Darren Aronofsky's "Pi" studied this in more detail) are a good read.  The constant hopping between Langdon/Sophie, the assassin Silas (played in the film by Paul Bettany), and the police chase led by The Bull and his chief assistant, Collet (Etienne Chicot) make for a good time, but the main reason you will like the material is due to the ideas Brown has come up with (some real, some imagined, from what I can tell in reading response to this book by the educated audiences and theologians involved) regarding Mary Magdalene, Jesus Christ, the forgotten Gospels and Opus Dei, amongst other things.  That, and a good puzzle here and there for you to sit on.

Too bad the movie doesn't convey the same things, because the movie isn't nearly as controversial as the book ideas seem to be (some things are left on the cutting room floor); too bad the movie seems to quicken certain points that needed to be drawn out and vice versa, like when Langdon is supposed to go to a library to do research on one of the final clues in the the movie, he actually bums a guy's cell phone on a bus and Googles Alexander Pope.  Are you fucking kidding me?  There was so much rich knowledge about the Louvre in the book that is turned into a literally-ten-minute number where we get nothing about why Langdon is so versed in the museum's architecture and layout.

But, mostly, the main problem with the film is that it just felt blah to me; the tough thing about having already read the book is that you are waiting for the book's crucial moments, as opposed to sitting back and just enjoying the flow of the movie makes for a much tougher viewing experience.  And, for the first time in a long time, I thought that both Hanks and director Ron Howard really stunk it up.  Yes, I can imagine Langdon being this boring in Brown's imagination, but for some reason, Hanks plays him as bored even when he's being shot at or physically intimidated.  Just because he was shot at in Angels & Demons (which takes place roughly a year before the events of The Da Vinci Code) doesn't mean he's suddenly John McClane and only kinda scared by staring down the barrel of a gun.  Doesn't Langdon just seem easy-going in this movie?  I don't know, I just know it wasn't working for me.

I don't normally read reviews of films but I had heard much negativity after "The Da Vinci Code" premiered at Cannes last week; I have to admit, I am in agreement!

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09