Friday, May 19, 2006

THE DA VINCI CODE - a game of two halves

I was all ready to love this film. Skulduggery, treasure hunts, pretty pictures of London....I had anticipated writing a spirited defence of the film as "glorious trash". It all started very well. Beautifully photographed, menacingly lit shots of the Louvre. The Curator, who also happens to be the Grand Master of a secret society, running for his life, observed by the mournful eyes of renaissance figures. The movie looked expensive, by which I mean well-made and lush. The old-fashioned orchestral score added to the tension, even though I had read the book and knew the plot. I loved the fact that periodically the current action would dissolve into a lavish recreation of ancient Rome or medieval London. As the film unravelled it got better and better. We had our dashing Symbologist (Tom Hanks) and the pretty French cryptologist (Audrey Tautou) in car chases through the French countryside, following a series of clues leading to the Holy Grail. Admittedly they were being chased by an Albino monk - a murdering member of a secretive Catholic prelature - but Paul Bettany somehow managed to portray this character as conflicted and threatening rather than ridiculous and camp. The high point was the introduction of the hero and heroine's helper, Sir Leigh Teabing, an expert on the Grail legend living in a conveniently close chateau. Teabing, as played by the ever-brilliant Sir Ian McKellan, is the life of the party. Despite this character having to impart a considerable amount of pseudo-religio-history to the Audrey Tautou character, Teabing hooks the audience with his child-like excitement at having a real keeper of the Grail in his midst. His enthusiasm for continuing to uncover the clues is contagious.

Now as far as I am concerned the movie, which is faithful in most respects to the novel, took a decided turn for the worse just over half way through, when a number of key characters were faded out. Tom Hanks was left to carry the film and, frankly, his bland looks and bland emotional response to what should have been Church-shattering events killed any enjoyment I might have experienced as the final meaning and location of the Grail was uncovered. Indeed, in the penultimate scene, when Hanks intones the true secret to Tautou, the audience at the screening I attended started to giggle. Which must rank as a bit of a failure on the part of the film-makers. The problem is that, in a world where everyone has either read the book or scene a TV documentary debunking its claims, The Big Bad Secret seems a bit of an anti-climax. In addition, there is zero sexual tension between Hanks and Tautou. Overall, I suppose I would sum up my reaction to THE DA VINCI CODE as "ho and indeed hum". It starts off like a rattling summer blockbuster and ends up as a damp squib.

P.S. For those concerned that the film may offend their Catholic sensibilities, I would argue that it is harmless hokum that would shake only the flimsiest of belief. Moreover, the script is at utter pains to distance itself from the radicalism of the novel. The murdering monk and nasty Bishop are described continuously as fringe elements acting without the authority of the Church. The Tom Hanks character is far more sceptical about the existence of the secret society and Grail, and then about its ability to destroy the Church, than in the book. Indeed, the whole film merely hints at prior crimes of the Church at large rather than damning the whole outfit as a misgynistic con. And the final conclusion is far less, well, destructive, in it airy-fairy conclusions. I feel that the director Ron Howard may have scored a bit of an own goal with this decision to shy away from the the radical anti-Catholic content. He still won't have appeased the kind of religious who hate any kind of criticism of their faith, whether real or imagined. And as for the die-hard fans who seriously believe all this hog-wash, the film may well feel like a soft-soaped compromise....

THE DA VINCI CODE is on global release.


  1. Even though someone gave me the book I won't be reading it - EVER!
    Same goes for this movie - plenty more films to see I reckon - and better ones at that. I gather it is funny in all the wrong places. Is Ian McKellan doing what Sir John Gielgud used to do and accept work in any crap play, film or TV just for the money?

  2. Far be it for me to pronounce on McKellan's Motives! Perhaps, post LOTR, he is just being offered a bunch of stuff and is simply having fun living the movie high life and quality of script be damned? For me, his best cinematic performance was in GODS AND MONSTERS.