Directed by: Ron Howard
Premise: An adaptation of Dan Brown’s best selling novel. Tom Hanks plays Robert Langdon, a symbologist who gets involved in a murder mystery that reveals a conspiracy involving the background of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.
What Works: Ron Howard has been including more and more formalistic techniques in his films in recent years, and in The Da Vinci Code he plays with the form to make the heavy exposition scenes interesting and cinematic. The use of subjective camera angles makes the code breaking scenes far more interesting to watch and lends the film a sorely needed visual savvy that would have been missing in the hands of a lesser director. The standout performance of The DaVinci Code is by Paul Bettany as Silas, a murderous monk. His unrelenting faith and sadomasochistic behavior make him one of the most frightening and most compelling villains in recent memory, and the film would have done well to include more of his role in the story.
What Doesn’t: The Da Vinci Code is structured all wrong. The story is full of holes as characters erratically change allegiances and appear in places for no particular reason. The ending is very problematic, as it concludes the conspiracy threat and takes the pressure off of the protagonists, but then has them run around Europe for another twenty minutes of screen time with no urgency or dramatic necessity. The story makes Langdon its lead protagonist, but his character has no arc. Although the other male characters do go through some changes, no one is developed enough for the arc to work. The one character who has the potential for this kind of development is Sophie (Audrey Tautou), the granddaughter of the murder victim, but she is pushed into the position of a supporting role and never really participates in the action so much as she tags along with it. A contrast can be made between this film and Kevin Smith’s Dogma, which dealt with many of the same issues but was far superior in its treatment of character and subject matter and did a much better job balancing exposition and drama.
Bottom Line: The Da Vinci Code is a disappointment. For all of its interesting ideas, the film fails to provide a compelling story. The Da Vinci Code seems more interested in its exposition than in the riddles of the murder mystery.
Episode: #98 (May 28, 2006)