Review: The Da Vinci Code

The Thinker by Rodin

Full disclosure: I have not read Dan Brown’s now ultra-famous book The Da Vinci Code. My daughter has read it and greatly enjoyed it. My wife got a few chapters into it before putting it down. She felt the quality of the writing was too poor for her to endure any further. Between the endless publicity, the hype about the movie, and the recent plagiarism case in Great Britain against Dan Brown, reading the book seemed superfluous. Anyone in a first world country who does not know the book’s central thesis is likely living a cloistered life. In that sense, seeing the movie is probably anticlimactic.

However, my 16-year-old daughter saw the movie when it first came out. She said it was a good movie, and volunteered to see it again with me. So partly to have an opportunity to get away with my daughter, we saw the movie together yesterday.

I assume you know the basic key points in the book, so consequently there is little to spoil. However, if you were recently released from cloisters then read no further because I will spill some of its main plot points and dubious assertions.

The Washington Post says the movie may be the first movie that takes longer to watch than to read the book on which it is based. At times, it certainly felt this way. Since my daughter read the book and liked the movie, I strongly suspect your appreciation for the movie will depend on how vested you felt reading the book. As for the rest of us, you may find that the movie to be an over-hyped disappointment.

I do not think that the movie of The Da Vinci Code is bad. Another movie I have seen lately truly qualifies as a bad movie. Instead, it is a mediocre movie. It is a movie that with a different director and cast maybe could have pulled off a satisfying movie. Tom Hanks is an excellent actor. However, that does not mean he is right for every role, even when a movie is formulated to be a blockbuster. He struck me as out of his element as Robert Langdon, an apparently real expert in symbology at Harvard University. In The Da Vinci Code, Hanks seems unable to find a way to express the character, so he wings it and in the process badly misses the mark. Perhaps this is because his character is never well defined by either Brown or Ron Howard, the director. In the movie, Langdon is simply a catalyst to move the movie forward. Hanks though really looks like he wishes he were doing some other movie. Maybe he knew this movie was a waste of his talents, but he could not turn down the millions of dollars he was offered.

However, Hanks is positively brilliant compared with Audrey Tautou. She plays Sophie Nevue, a.k.a the latest direct (and for a while, believed to be the last) living descendent of Jesus Christ. I have to assume she too was stunningly miscast, since this is the same woman who delighted millions with her performance as Amelie in the French made subtitled movie of the same name. Granted in Amelie her role was more of a comedic one. Perhaps she is more suited to comedic roles. Here she comes across as mostly one-dimensional and she is about as interesting as a flat soda. For someone who should be very excited by all the discoveries being unearthed, she seems largely dispassionate.

The movie is supposed to be suspenseful but largely failed to engage me. A few scenes may frighten you a bit. Most of the twists and turns are not hard to anticipate, even if you have only a passing familiarity with the key revelations (as I had). Ian McKellan, as Sir Leigh Teabing, helps to enliven the tedium. Like Robin Williams in the otherwise dreadful movie Cadillac Man, McKellan can help make an otherwise mediocre movie endurable. Paul Bettany is also suitably creepy as the brainwashed masochistic Opus Dei cult henchman Silas. (It was hard to believe this is the same man who played Stephen Maturin in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. He certainly is a versatile actor!)

The book is apparently filled with short chapters. Each chapter end with a cliffhanger. This makes it difficult not to turn the page. The movie tries to emulate this aspect of the book. It certainly does move along at a brisk pace. Unfortunately, in spite of this the movie largely failed to engage me. It is not that I do not find conspiracy theories interesting. I think it is certainly plausible that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. She could well have been pregnant at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Most Protestants take it as given that when the Bible speaks of James as Jesus’ brother, he was his biological brother, not a fraternal one. Naturally, the Catholics would find the notion of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ wife the most offensive. Since for all but the last 500 years or so they controlled the Christian church, it is plausible that they would want to hide or minimize Jesus’ affection for Mary, since it would go against doctrine.

No, the whole notion of Opus Dei and a plot to keep “the truth” about Jesus obscured for 2000 years is where The Da Vinci Code breaks down for me. It fails my Occam’s Razor test because it is just too far out in left field. Heck, even Jesus’ divinity is more plausible than this preposterous tale of the search for the Holy Grail. At least Monty Python’s movie was funny. This one tries to make you believe the ludicrous. Perhaps as a result the longer the movie went on (and it never seemed to end) and the stranger the plot twists became, the more I started yawning and the less I cared about the conclusion.

If director Ron Howard had at least taken the time to throw in a little romantic tension, perhaps the movie would have been more enjoyable. Yet Hanks and Tautou are not given any opportunities to develop chemistry. Their mutual interests are wholly academic. The closest they come to any sign of affection is a chaste kiss Hanks gives Tautou on her forehead at the very end of the movie. When it finally ends after 149 minutes, I felt mostly relief.

The result is a B movie masquerading as an A movie. It gets 2.7 on my 4.0 scale.

(If anyone wants my take, not necessarily on the movie’s central thesis, but on the meaning of Jesus’ life, read this entry.)

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