Saturday, May 20, 2006

So Dark the Con of Man

I did something Friday I rarely do, I went to a movie on opening day. I caught a midafternoon showing of The Da Vinci Code amid a packed theater and an actual smattering of applause at the end. Not rip-roaring hoots of approval, just a couple claps here and there. And I can probably summarize my critique in one word: Perspective.

It's no secret the critics in Cannes have had a field day shredding this film. I had actually read a single favorable review from a preview that took place before the Cannes hate-fest. At this juncture, however, I don't think a single critic is going to go on record as enjoying the film for fear that s/he would be laughed out of his/her profession.

Perspective, people.

The Da Vinci Code (the book) was a runaway blockbuster, and don't quote me here, but it has achieved some status like the #1 best-selling book in the history of the universe. Or something like that. That is to say, it was big. Huge. Pam Anderson-breast enormous. Tom Cruise-ego humongous. But guess what. Sales status does not equal literary quality.

Yes, I read The Da Vinci Code. I read it in a single, rainy day while on vacation. It was purely plot-driven, a real page-turner, a good thriller. Chapters were 3-5 pages long and always ended with enough of a cliffhanger that I continued reading. It wasn't art. It wasn't the finest piece of literature I'd ever read, hell no, but it was without question entertaining. I have since read a few other books by Dan Brown and was disappointed but not surprised to discover that he is strictly a formula writer.

So with this in mind, let's segue now to the film. Did it deserve the trashing and abuse the critics are giving it? No, I don't think so. Is it a great film? No, but it's good. Like the book, it's entertaining. And the reason it was released in mid-May and not mid-December is because it is meant for entertainment, not Academy Award consideration.

For me, there were three highlights. First on that list is Ron Howard's direction. If you've read The Da Vinci Code, and chances are you have, you know that this film had high potential to be cheesier than Velveeta. Howard made sure it didn't slide down what could have been the very slippery slope of over-the-top melodrama, and for that, he should be commended.

Another stand-out was the supporting cast. Paul Bettany and Sir Ian McKellen in particular were worth the price of admission, I loved both of their portrayals. Jean Reno's role of Captain Fache was lessened somewhat than in the book, but he played it spot-on. And you can always depend on Alfred Molino to turn in a solid performance, which he did yet again. All four of these actors transcended themselves beautifully.

The movie also did something really interesting with what were long narratives in the book. Ron Howard actually portrayed the "history lessons" (for lack of a better word). When Hanks' or McKellen's characters are describing historical events in Jerusalem, Rome, etc., we are effectively transported there through some amazing use of cinematography. And speaking of cinematography, Paris, London, the Louvre, everything was beautifully shot. Serious props to the director of photography.

The negatives? For me, the movie wasn't as exciting as reading the book, but I've talked to a couple people who didn't read it, and they said it was absolutely thrilling for them. So perhaps knowing the plot ahead of time is somewhat of a disadvantage in viewing The Da Vinci Code. I also didn't think that Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou had much chemistry. Their dialogue was a bit flat, but it was insipid in the book, so I'm not holding them responsible for that. Both were perfectly adequate. I would have preferred someone less well-known than Tom Hanks in the role of Langdon. Not that Langdon is a particularly dynamic character - he's actually pretty vanilla - but Hanks was Hanks, not Langdon. An unknown or barely-known actor would have been my choice, but don't get me wrong, it's not like Hanks lessened the pleasure for me. He was perfectly fine.

I can't help but compare The Da Vinci Code to The Firm. Both were huge best selling novels made into highly anticipated summer action films. I even liked Tom Cruise back in the days of The Firm, and Gene Hackman was great in it. But I still have to give the edge to The Da Vinci Code. It's simply more entertaining.

As for the critics? Perspective. Face it, critics are writers. Maybe some of them have been suffering The Great American Novel, only to have fame and fortune elude them, mock them even. I gotta wonder if some of the spanking the movie is taking is really meant for the book and the author, Dan Brown; you know, a bit of professional jealousy. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's my running theory.

So do this. You want summer entertainment? Skip MI:3 and go see Da Vinci.


At Monday, May 22, 2006 8:12:00 AM, Blogger GetFlix said...

Thank-you for the great review. I have not read the book, but was leaning towards going to see the film. Unfortunately the critics have been less than kind. I would have to say my biggest issue, the single factor keeping me from the theatre, is Tom Hanks. And his hair.

At Monday, May 22, 2006 8:21:00 AM, Blogger Mike V. said...

Wow, great review, young lady.

I look forward to watching this on my wide screen when it comes out on DVD.

I really never go to the theater anymore unless it's an R rated adult-themed movie, because otherwise there will be young people in the theater making noise and I will have to kill them. :)

At Monday, May 22, 2006 9:43:00 AM, Blogger LA said...

Flix - His hair is really bad.

Mike - The theater was REALLY loud before the film started, and I was concerned I was going to have to pull out my uzi and go all Mafia on the audience; but I'm happy to report that everyone was absolutely silent during the movie. Which bodes well for the film, it had the rapt attention of the audience all the way through.

At Monday, May 22, 2006 10:36:00 AM, Blogger Softball Slut said...

I loved the movie, because I too took it for what it was worth. Entertaining. The book is way too detailed to do every single thing. I read the book when it first came out before the hype so I didnt remember everything so it was like seeing it for the first time.
My favorite part is all the tv shows on now, on the History Channel and Discovery about Knights of the Templar and The THS of DaVinci code, etc. God I am such a nerd

At Monday, May 22, 2006 2:48:00 PM, Blogger ffleur said...

Great review LA. The bad reviews haven't put me off the movie but I rarly go to the theatre. I'll wait for the rental.

But I loved the book. Such a page turner and like Trish, I am an art/architecture/history nerd so it was an extremely enjoyable romp for me. Just fun. I didn't take it seriously. Just a story, nothing to get your knickers in a twist over (I say to the people out there who are outraged)

At Monday, May 22, 2006 7:37:00 PM, Blogger prettykitty said...

does audrey tatou have any whimsical imaginary friends or does she gaze into the camera with that sideways grin? if not, then i'll pass. just kidding. great review LA! i will probably catch it on DVD.

At Tuesday, May 23, 2006 3:32:00 PM, Blogger anaKonda said...

Loved the review LA.
Hate critics. I think most of them are nothing more than jealous, frustrated writers that enjoy the fact they can reach and influence audiences into liking or disliking the work of their more successful peers.

At Tuesday, May 23, 2006 10:00:00 PM, Blogger Mike V. said...

But Ebert had a movie made! :)

See if you can find it.

(yes, I have seen it, and it's terrible, but in a good way..)

At Wednesday, May 24, 2006 9:52:00 AM, Blogger Pope-rah said...

Glad to see an honest, non-hate driving I-told-you so sort of review. Thanks, LA! I was planning on going just to spite a few of my friends.

At Wednesday, May 24, 2006 1:56:00 PM, Blogger Jesús said...

Can't wait to see it LA! I agree completely about the book (I liked it OK), from your review it seems like the movie is what I expect from it, so...I'll let you know!!

By the way, I've been missing coming back!



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