People often say that they don’t understand critics, and I can’t blame them. Even though I’m one myself, I don’t always follow the party line. I dislike many films every other critic loves and vice versa. In any case, I generally find it suspicious when the critical reaction is too homogenous, as in the case of the initial reception of “The Da Vinci Code”. To believe the journalists who saw the picture before anyone else at Cannes, this is an unwatchable, laughable mess. Having now seen it myself, I can assure you that while it’s far from perfect, it’s a well put together, mostly entertaining movie that at least has the merit of being about things that you don’t hear about all the time…
…unless of course you have read the novel and the countless other books, documentaries, etc. that it has spawned, for better or worse. There seems to be a whole industry built around supporting or refuting Dan Brown’s bestseller, proving once again how thin-skinned folks are when it comes to religion. In case you’re not aware of it yet, “The Da Vinci Code” is about what’s alleged to be the biggest cover-up in the history of the world, namely how the Catholic Church decided to make Christ into a divine figure who only had men as disciples when in fact, he was more human, with a wife and even a child he impregnated her with before the crucifixion. In an even more blatant example of misogyny, the Church not only hid the fact that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife and closest apostle but made her into a prostitute in the “official” history of the Bible.
The novel -and the movie- takes place over 24 hours, as symbology expert Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks, reliably compelling, coiffed hair and all) and sidekick Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou, annoying in an underwritten part) run around France and England trying to discover who murdered the curator of the Louvre and why. This turns into kind of a treasure hunt, with various clues, anagrams and puzzles, and the stakes are larger than anyone could imagine, involving the Priory of Sion, the Opus Dei and, naturally, the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci.
The Cannes haters’ biggest problem about the film seems to be that it’s plodding, talky, boring… Um, no. Sure, there’s a lot of exposition, clunky dialogue and weak characterizations, Hans Zimmer’ score lays it pretty thick and the cinematography is overly dark at times, but the heart of the material (the religious/historical/mythological stuff, not so much the plot) is fascinating. Add to that a mostly capable cast and efficient direction from Ron Howard, and you got a pretty good package there, don’t you think? Boring? I thought that the thing really moved, like the page-turner that inspired it, with twists on top of twists, brisk flashbacks, awesome locations like churches and castles… I particularly liked how Howard offsets the heavy exposition by using a lot of visual storytelling; we’re not just told about the Knight Templars, Constantine or the Inquisition, we’re shown epic glimpses of it.
Around Hanks and Tautou, the supporting players provide much of the film’s enjoyment. Jean Reno puts his spin on the stereotypical Stupid Chief part, Paul Bettany is intensely creepy as Silas, the albino monk who seems to have watched The Passion of the Christ too many times and is constantly self-mutilating to emulate the pain of Jesus on the cross and, last but not least, Ian McKellen is absolutely delicious as a regal, smirky old British queen who gets involved in the quest for the Holy Grail. “The Da Vinci Code” is not great cinema, but the book wasn’t great literature either, just a potent pulp thriller – like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with less humor and action, but more intriguing ideas.