The Da Vinci Code (12A)



Thriller (2006)
148mins US

Starring: Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Paul Bettany, Ian McKellen, Jean Reno
Director: Ron Howard
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Harvard professor Robert Langdon is summoned to the Louvre in Paris where the elderly curator, Jacques Sauniere, has been brutally slain. The dead man's final act, in his death throes, is a series of baffling codes and riddles. Working alongside plucky French cryptologist Sophie Neveu, Robert begins to solve the devilish conundrums and realises that the secret lies in the magnificent works of Leonardo Da Vinci. On the run from a clandestine sect known as Opus Dei, Robert and Sophie quickly assemble the pieces of an elaborate puzzle, pointing to the location of an important religious relic, hidden for many years by the centuries-old Priory of Sion.

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LondonNet Film Review

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code - Image Source: Sony PicturesNot since a timid boy wizard strayed into the hallowed halls of Hogwarts has a book captured the public imagination quite like Dan Brown's hugely enjoyable historical conspiracy thriller. Translated into 44 languages - and counting - and boasting worldwide sales in excess of 40 million copies (including more than 4 million copies in the UK), The Da Vinci Code is a global literary phenomenon, which has enraged religious groups, infuriated scholars and propelled Brown to the top of the bestseller lists, via the High Court. Riding into cinemas on the crest of a tidal wave of hype and expectation, Ron Howard's film is, inevitably perhaps, a disappointment. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman remains largely faithful to the source novel but it's evident from the outset that the page is a far more forgiving medium to Brown's clumsy dialogue and gargantuan leaps of logic than the screen.

The twists and turns of the serpentine plot, which seem only faintly ridiculous in the privacy of our imagination, seem so much more laughable in a darkened auditorium. Howard relies on director of photography Salvatore Totino to conjure a mood of grim foreboding with expert use of shadows and light, especially in the spooky opening sequence in the Louvre, set to Hans Zimmer's driving orchestral score, and horrific scenes of the monk Silas self-flagellating, his skin oozing blood with every brutal stroke. Hanks and Tautou gel nicely but fail to make much impact - their characters are slaves to the mechanics of the plot, relating historical facts and reacting to each clue in the treasure hunt - so the film relies heavily on the supporting cast.

Sir Ian McKellen delivers a boisterous turn as historian Sir Leigh Teabing, striking the right note between camp and eccentric. He relishes a couple of cute one-liners, including a saucy quip about the military. Bettany is impressive too, portraying Silas as a more tragic and sympathetic figure than the cold-blooded killer depicted in the book, although his accent lends a ring of unintentional comedy to the dialogue. As in the book, the story gets underway with Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) being summoned to the Louvre in Paris where the elderly curator, Jacques Sauniere (Jean-Pierre Marielle), has been slain.

The dead man's final act is a baffling riddle written in invisible ink: "13 3 2 21 1 1 8 5/O, Draconian devil!/Oh, lame saint!" Working alongside Sauniere's granddaughter, plucky cryptologist Sophie Neveu (Tautou), Robert begins to solve the devilish conundrum and realises that the secret lies in the magnificent works of Leonardo Da Vinci. It also becomes transparent that the French police, led by Captain Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) and his lieutenant, Jerome Collet (Etienne Chicot), are convinced the professor is their murderer.

Escaping from the Louvre with Sophie, Langdon tracks down a specially coded device called a cryptex, and he enlists the help of aging historian and aristocrat Sir Leigh Teabing (McKellen) to help break the code. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure known as The Teacher entreats Bishop Aringarosa (Alfred Molina) and his protege, masochistic albino assassin Silas (Paul Bettany), to steal the cryptex and stop Langdon at all costs. On the run from both the police and the clandestine sect Opus Dei, Robert and Sophie quickly assemble the pieces of an elaborate puzzle, pointing to the location of an important religious relic, hidden for many years by the centuries-old Priory of Sion, and a secret that could destroy the very foundations of Christianity.

The Da Vinci Code will be one of the year's biggest films, no question. The anticipation of the global readership, coupled with Hanks's irrefutable box office pulling power, is an irresistible combination. However, as treasure hunts go, this is a pedestrian affair, unevenly paced especially in the final act. Screenwriter Goldsman pares down the intellectual gymnastics of the book, omitting extraneous characters and diversions: a trip to King's College library, where Robert and Sophie break part of the code, is replaced by the quick use of an internet-enabled mobile 'phone on the top deck of a London bus.

The couple's escape from the Louvre in Sophie's Smart car is elevated to a frenetic action sequence reminiscent of The Bourne Identity, and there are noticeable changes to the grand denouement. Goldsman saturates the film with flashbacks - Sophie and Robert's childhoods, Emperor Constantine's death, Sir Isaac Newton's funeral - elegantly accomplished with computer special effects. As history lessons go - albeit one with wild leaps of imagination and supposition - The Da Vinci Code is easily digestible.

However, these frequent glimpses of the past drag out the running time to an unnecessarily uncomfortable 148 minutes. Unlike the paintings in the Louvre, where Robert and Sophie begin their quest, Howard's film is no masterpiece."

- Sophie Abel



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