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Holy smoke

So it’s here at last, the big hitter: The Da Vinci Code.

17 May 2006

3:06 PM

17 May 2006

3:06 PM

So it’s here at last, the big hitter: The Da Vinci Code.

So it’s here at last, the big hitter: The Da Vinci Code. Ron Howard (Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) directing, Tom Hanks (you know the one) starring, Akiva Goldsman (Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, Batman and Robin) adapting the book by Dan Brown. Millions of people have read the book; millions will see the film. Millions have been spent; millions will be made. It’s a serious business.

The plot, in case you’ve just dropped in from Mars, concerns an American symbologist named Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) who happens to be lecturing in Paris when a murder takes place at the Louvre. Langdon is brought to the scene by the French police and asked to decode the peculiar symbols which surround the corpse. Before he can make much progress, a young woman named Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) arrives to warn Langdon in secret that he is being framed. Langdon and Neveu feign their escape from the Louvre, drawing the gendarmes away, and then return to the crime scene and the coded messages. They realise that the murdered man, Neveu’s grandfather, meant to bring them together in order to set them off on a quest for the Holy Grail (hint: it’s not just a chalice). So, off they go.


Two and a half hours later, the quest is at an end — a fact for which I gave rightful thanks and praise. The script has remained faithful to the book, and I imagine that fans of the book, in their teeming millions, will love the film. Everything you need to love the film is in place: there’s a complicated plot bearing Grand Ideas, lots of rushing about for Langdon and Neveu, a decidedly unChristian monk hot on their tail, double-crossers on all sides, inept (and sinister) French police, Ian McKellen being charming — it’s all there.

If only the film hadn’t been so pleased with itself, or so pompous, or so dull. If only I had been watching at home and I could have laughed out loud when I pleased. If only Tom Hanks had at least registered any kind of reaction, not to say emotion, on his smooth chops. But as it was, a feeling of low-level boredom settled over me after about 15 minutes, and covered me like a blanket for the following one hundred and thirty-five. It wasn’t painful, it wasn’t horrible, it was just a big fat let-down.

There were moments of blissful comedy for which I was grateful, even though they were unintentional. Neveu actually says, ‘You must follow my directions very closely…’ to which the only possible response should surely be ‘…For I will say zis only once.’ Another high point was when Langdon and Neveu are deciding which code to put into a machine. It’s very tense. Langdon frowns at Neveu and queries, ‘Scrambled or unscrambled?’ Also, I’m ashamed to say that the sight of two bishops enjoying a game of billiards made me giggle.

But seriously. The problem really lies in the script. Faithful it may be, but good enough it is not. Langdon and Neveu are such mediocre characters they don’t deserve the extraordinary circumstances of the story. As each world-changing revelation looms between them, they exchange little more than owlish glances and dialogue along the lines of ‘Incroyable’ and ‘My Gahd!’ Tautou might flare her nostrils; Hanks might weave his brow. The plot may be coded but the characterisation is shamefully superficial — it’s as if all the characters are wearing sandwich boards stating their intentions: ‘Good Guy’, ‘Bad Guy’, ‘Twisted Assassin’. Tolling bells, hems dragging the flagstones, mysterious voices at the end of cellphones…my Gahd. It’s simply incroyable.

The ‘history’, such as it is, is given to us in flashbacks, cunningly bled in by the special-effects department. So Langdon and Neveu arrive in a new location, they discover a clue, she frowns at him (signalling, ‘Qu’est-ce que c’est?’), and then Hanks doles out the appropriate information while we are treated to a flashback which puts the wretched item in context. That’s no way to tell a story, is it? It’s all just so much holy smoke and mirrors.

Oh dear, I can’t think of anything kind to say at all. How about if I recommend another film, to make up for it? There’s a documentary out this week called Once in a Lifetime which tells the story of an American soccer team, the New York Cosmos. The Cosmos signed up Pele in the 1970s and brought football (albeit briefly) to the attention of the American people. I’ve never watched a (whole) game of football in my life, but I loved this documentary. Despite being too long (grr), it was damn groovy.


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